Authors: Meg Cabot
“Aw,” Sophie said. “That’s so cute!”
“Allie’s dad made them popcorn for breakfast,” Erica said. I could tell she was enjoying herself, talking about how funny the Finkles were. This was turning out to be one of her favorite subjects. “Because he couldn’t find any cereal bowls!”
“You’re not supposed to tell anyone about the popcorn,” I reminded her. “Or, at least, not any teachers.”
“That’s okay,” Caroline said. “One time we ran out of sandwich meat, so my dad just made us mustard
sandwiches. They weren’t very good. My parents are divorced,” she explained. “And my big sister and I live with my dad. It can be hard sometimes.”
“It must be,” I said sympathetically.
“My dad’s a really good cook,” Sophie said. “Last night for dinner he made us spaghetti Bolognese. My dad does all the cooking in our family, because my mom is working on her dissertation. And besides, she’s a terrible cook. She burned potpourri once.”
“You can’t burn potpourri,” Caroline said.
“Yes, you can,” Sophie said. “If you go to the mall and leave it simmering on the stove, the water in it evaporates, and then the potpourri smolders, and then the smoke detector goes off, and the neighbors call the fire department. It was so embarrassing.”
I appreciated what Caroline and Sophie were trying to do—make the butterflies in my stomach go away.
And it was kind of working. Almost all the butterflies in my stomach had disappeared.
Before I knew it, even though we hadn’t been walking particularly fast, our feet were tromping on the dead leaves
that lined Pine Heights Elementary’s playground. I could hear the shrieks of encouragement as kids (including my brother Mark) played kick ball while waiting for the first bell to ring. I could see people on the swings pumping their legs to go higher and higher. I saw clusters of other kids just standing around, doing nothing but looking at other kids looking at them (which included me).
That’s when the butterflies in my stomach came right back. In fact, they turned from butterflies into great big swooping bats banging around inside me. Because I couldn’t help thinking, what if none of those kids on the playground liked me? What if the only people who talked to me all day were Erica, Caroline, and Sophie? Which would be okay…but I didn’t want them to get sick of me, not on my first day. Then I’d have a whole year of no one liking me but those three. That would be terrible! I mean, for them.
It was right then that something truly awful happened.
Kevin let go of my hand and also Erica’s and ran toward the jungle gym, I guess because he saw some kids his own age playing on it.
To me Kevin just looked normal. I mean, the fact is, he wears his pirate costume all the time, such as to the grocery store, to story hour at the library, and to Dairy Queen for his favorite cone, vanilla twist butterscotch dip, which he is always careful not to spill on his red sash.
But I heard some of the kids standing in a cluster nearby—they were girls, big girls, too, maybe fifth-grade girls—start to laugh. When I looked over at them, I saw that they were laughing…at Kevin! That had to be what they were laughing at, because they were looking right at him.
They were laughing at my brother.
And then they looked over at me. Then they started whispering to one another. Which meant they could only be whispering about me. But why? What was
wasn’t wearing pirate pants and boots beneath my down parka.
Then I remembered: I was wearing a skirt with jeans. I’d insisted on wearing a skirt with jeans, in spite of the fact that my mom had tried to talk me out of it.
Oh, this was terrible!
And that’s when it hit me. Maybe what Erica had said was really true—the Finkles
funny. Maybe the Finkles were
funny…too funny to fit into someplace new. Like a new school…a new neighborhood…a new anywhere.
Oh, why had I let my parents talk me into moving? Why had I let them convince me to start at a new school, where I didn’t really know anyone and where people might think Finkles were funny?
And why—why, oh, why—had I worn a skirt with jeans on my very first day at my brand-new school?
Before I could turn around and run all the way home—which was the first thing I thought of doing when I saw them pointing at me and whispering—the big fifth-grade girls started coming toward us.
“Uh-oh,” Sophie whispered.
“Uh-oh, is right,” I whispered back. “Run!”
But it was too late to run, since the fifth-grade girls were already coming toward us. They were so close, I could practically smell the bubble gum they were chewing.
“We’re going to die now,” I said faintly, clutching Erica’s arm. “Good-bye. It was nice knowing all of you.”
“Th-they can’t kill us,” Sophie stammered. “Mrs. Jenkins, the principal, outlawed killing people on the playground last year.”
While this was good to know, I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence that these girls were the kind who actually obeyed rules, even those made by the principal. I held on to Erica’s arm, feeling a little sad about the fact that I was going to die so soon. I felt like I had so many things left in life that I wanted to do. I had never kissed a boy yet. Not that I really wanted to, but Uncle Jay’s girlfriend, Harmony, said kissing was a lot of fun.
And I had also never had one of those blizzard things at Dairy Queen. The ones with the bits of Heath Bar looked good. It was sad I was going to die before ever tasting one.
“I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out,” Erica said faintly. “They look really nice.”
“They don’t look so nice to me,” Caroline said as the girls loomed over us.
“Hey,” one of the fifth-graders said to me. “Are you the New Girl?”
It felt strange to be called the New Girl. At my old school, I hadn’t been the New Girl. I’d just been Allie Finkle (except for a few bad days I’d prefer to forget when I’d been Allie Stinkle). And I’d liked it that way just fine.
“Um,” I said, my heart beating all hard inside my chest. “Yes?”
“Is that your little brother?” the fifth-grade girl wanted to know.
She pointed at Kevin, who was now hanging upside down on the jungle gym (under the supervision of a teacher, and my parents, who were laughing at him). Kevin, as usual, was enjoying the attention. Kevin didn’t have to worry about showing his underwear, of course, since he was wearing his pirate pants and not a skirt.
“Um,” I said. I don’t know what it was about fifth-graders that made me say “um” a lot. Maybe it was how scary tall they were.
I thought about denying that I was related to Kevin. But
I realized that they would probably just figure it out later, like at some school fair when they saw my whole family doing a cakewalk together or something.
So I said, “Yes.”
The biggest fifth-grade girl of all sucked in her breath, and I closed my eyes and waited because I was expecting her to say something like, “Why is he so weird?” or “Why don’t you and your family go back to where you came from?”
But instead she cried, “He’s so
And then all the other fifth-grade girls squealed, “Oh, my gosh, he is!” and “You’re so lucky!” and “What’s his name?” and “How can you stand it?” and “Is that a
costume he’s wearing?”
I am not even making this up. That is exactly what they said. Those fifth-grade girls thought my brother in his pirate boots was the cutest thing since cute had been invented or something.
And the next thing I knew, they had rushed over to Kevin and were petting him on the head like he was our dog, Marvin.
And Kevin was loving every minute of it.
“Yes,” I overheard him saying. “I guess I
I let go of Erica’s arm and the four of us just stood there looking at each other.
“That,” Sophie said, “was so close! I really thought those girls were going to kill us.”
“They wouldn’t have,” Erica said. “Really.”
“Erica always sees the best in people,” Caroline explained to me. “When she isn’t keeping the peace. Or trying to, anyway.”
“That’s not true,” Erica protested. Then, when Caroline and Sophie started laughing, she joined them a little sheepishly and said, “Well, maybe it is.”
I realized I’d just learned a really valuable rule:
If a bunch of fifth-grade girls thinks your little brother is cute, just go along with it.
It’s way better than dying.
It was right then that the bell rang.
“Come on!” Erica said.
We went running over to stand in the line for Mrs. Hunter’s fourth-grade class. I smiled when I saw
Mrs. Hunter standing there in the front of the line. She looked so pretty in her sand-colored belted coat, even though her hair wasn’t at all long, like my teacher’s hair at my old school.
Still, Mrs. Hunter’s hair was styled very nicely, and I saw that she had on very nice brown suede boots with high heels.
Mrs. Hunter smiled back when she saw me and gave a little wink.
When other kids saw the wink Mrs. Hunter gave me, they all looked down the line, like,
Who’d she wink at?
Then, when they saw me, they twisted up their faces, and I could hear them whispering, “Who’s that?” even though Mrs. Jenkins, the principal, had totally introduced me to the class a few weeks before.
I blushed, knowing they were all thinking,
That must be the New Girl.
Some of the butterflies, which had settled down a little after it became clear the fifth-grade girls weren’t going to kill us after all, came fluttering back into my stomach.
Then Mrs. Hunter was saying, “All right, fourth-grade
class, follow me, and keep your line straight and
, please!” and we were following Mrs. Hunter upstairs to her classroom, which was decorated on the walls with puffy clouds that said things like
EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING
, and silver stars that said things like
REACH FOR THE STARS
Erica showed me where I could hang up my coat and backpack in the cloakroom, but when I got out my pencil case and school supplies I didn’t know where to take them. I stood there watching everyone else hurrying to their old-fashioned desks and wondering where I was going to sit until I felt a hand on my shoulder, and then I looked up and saw Mrs. Hunter smiling down at me.
“Welcome, Allie,” she said. “We’re so glad to have you here. I did a little rearranging last night and made room for a desk for you over by Erica Harrington. I hope that’s all right by you—”
I could hear Erica’s excited gasp all the way across the room. I glanced in her direction and saw her waving over
by the giant windows that looked out across the playground.
“But you two have to promise not to make me regret my decision to let you sit together,” Mrs. Hunter went on, very seriously, “by socializing when you’re supposed to be paying attention, or I’ll have no choice but to split you up. Do you understand?”
I nodded. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. This was the best first day of school ever! Aside from the whole parents-following-me-to-school-and-brother-dressed-as-a-pirate thing.
“I understand, Mrs. Hunter,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “Now go and take your seat.”
I hurried to slip behind the desk that had been put at the end of the row beside Erica’s, closest to the window. I could feel the gazes of everyone in the classroom as I moved to sit down in it. But that was all right. Even though it was old-fashioned and sort of stuck out a little, like it didn’t quite belong, it was my desk, and it was just perfect.
“Good morning, class,” Mrs. Hunter said as she walked to the front of the room. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, we have a new student joining us today. Allie Finkle, would you like to come up to the front of the room and tell us all a little about yourself?”
The truthful answer would have been, no, actually, I would not.
But I could see that I didn’t really have much of a choice.
When a grown-up
especially a teacher
asks you to do something, it’s really rude not to do it.
That’s a rule.
So I stopped arranging my school supplies inside my desk and got up and went to the front of the room where Mrs. Hunter was, and after a nervous glance at her I said, “Well, my name is Allie Finkle, and I just moved here. I live next door to Erica Harrington—”
!” I heard Erica squeal, and a couple of people (well, okay, Sophie and Caroline) laughed.
“Go on,” Mrs. Hunter said to me encouragingly. “What are some important things we ought to know about Allie Finkle?”
The first thing that popped into my head, of course,
was what Erica had said earlier—that Finkles were funny.
But I couldn’t say that! Because what if Mrs. Hunter asked for examples? I’d have to tell her about how my dad had made popcorn for breakfast, and Mom had specifically told me not to tell any teachers about that.
So I tried to think of something else to say…something else important to tell the class that they ought to know about me.
You would think it would be easy to think of something, since I’m me all the time and I know myself so well, and that I would have thought of something right away.
But it’s actually really hard to think when you’re standing up in front of twenty-five people and all of their gazes are on you.
This made me start feeling really hot. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d chosen to wear a skirt and jeans. Why had I done this? This is really too many pieces of clothes at one time. Yes, it’s excellent for twirling like Erica’s sister, Melissa, and for hanging upside down on the jungle gym.
But I couldn’t help noticing that only the kindergartners at Pine Heights Elementary had been climbing on the jungle gym.
Then, just when I feared I wasn’t going to be able to think of anything—anything at all about me that was worth mentioning, except that my uncle Jay had double-jointed thumbs and a turtle named Wang-Ba—I remembered something. Something very important about me!
“I’m getting a kitten,” I told Mrs. Hunter’s fourth-grade class excitedly. “I’m getting a kitten in a few weeks from the litter of a registered show cat named Lady Serena Archibald who belongs to the mother of a girl at my old school. Lady Serena is a purebred long-haired blue colorpoint Persian. But her kittens won’t be long-haired Persians, because no one knows who the father cat is. But that’s okay, because I’ll love my kitten no matter what it looks like when it comes out.”
“Well,” Mrs. Hunter said, smiling, “that’s certainly something we didn’t know about you before, did we, class? Does anyone have any questions for Allie?”
A very large girl in the back raised her hand. Mrs. Hunter called on her. “Yes, Rosemary?”
“Yeah,” Rosemary said. “Was that your little brother who came to school today dressed like a pirate?”
“Yes,” I said, thinking she was going to say how cute Kevin was, just like those fifth-grade girls had. Because she was as big as they were. “That was Kevin. He likes pirates. I have another brother, Mark, in the second grade. He likes bugs. Also sports and trucks.” I rolled my eyes to show I was not interested in any of these things, and a few people laughed.
But not Rosemary.
“Well,” Rosemary said instead, “you might want to tell Kevin that Halloween is over.”
Now the class was laughing a lot. At what Rosemary had just said. Mostly just the boys. But still.
“All right,” Mrs. Hunter said. Mrs. Hunter hadn’t laughed. “That’s enough. Does anyone else have any questions for Allie?”
No one else had any questions for me, so Mrs. Hunter thanked me and said that I could go back to my seat.
Which was good, because by then my knees were shaking so hard I could barely stand up anymore. I sank behind my desk, relieved to be sitting down again. I couldn’t believe how badly my introducing myself to the class had gone. They’d all laughed! And not with me.
“All right, class,” Mrs. Hunter said. “Let’s get to work, we have a lot to go over this morning. Let’s take out our math books and turn right to page fifty-two—”
“You did good!” Erica leaned forward to tell me as she dug around in her desk for her math book.
“I kind of thought so, too,” I said. I looked over at Rosemary while my desktop was tilted up and Mrs. Hunter couldn’t see us talking. “Is she always like that?”
“Sort of,” Erica said. “Don’t listen to her! She’s mean. That’s why Mrs. Hunter has her sit in the back with the boys.”
I shook my head. “What do you mean?”
Erica pointed. “See how Mrs. Hunter’s desk is back there?”
I looked. Mrs. Hunter’s desk, instead of being at the front of the room by the chalkboard, was in the back.
“That way,” Erica explained, “during quiet time Mrs. Hunter can keep an eye on the worst-behaved boys who all sit in the back. But when Mrs. Hunter is at the front of the room teaching, Rosemary is back there to keep an eye on things. The boys are afraid of Rosemary because she’s so mean, and also much bigger than they are.”
“Did Rosemary flunk a grade?” I asked.
“No,” Erica said. “Her dad is the football coach at the university. He’s six feet seven and weighs almost three hundred pounds.”
“Oh,” I said. My parents work at the university, too. Only my dad teaches computers, and my mom is an adviser. Neither of them is a sports coach, so they are normal size. “That explains it.”
“Allie.” Mrs. Hunter’s voice floated over from across the top of my desk. I lowered it a little so I could see her. She was looking right at me!
“It’s time for math right now,” Mrs. Hunter said. “In this class, the time for chitchatting with your neighbor is at recess.”
I couldn’t believe it! I’d been caught chitchatting with my neighbor, and on my very first day at my brand-new school!
I could feel my face turning bright red, I was so ashamed. I hurried to get out my math book and closed the lid of my desk super softly so as not to draw any more attention to myself. This was so awful! Did Mrs. Hunter hate me? I hoped not. She was so pretty and had been so nice to me. Up until now, anyway.
The thing was, I knew the time for chitchatting with your neighbor was during recess, not math class. I mean, I was a straight-A student back at my old school. I never chitchatted with my neighbor during class time. At least, not very much. I know it sounds babyish, but I wanted to cry, I was so embarrassed for getting in trouble on my very first day.