Read The New Girl Online

Authors: Meg Cabot

The New Girl (5 page)

Maybe it was because I was so tired that I didn’t remember until Erica reminded me on the way to school that it was the day of the big fourth-grade spelling bee, when Mrs. Hunter’s fourth-grade class was competing against Mrs. Danielson’s fourth-grade class for spelling champion of our grade. I am not the world’s greatest speller under the best of circumstances…

…but I guess I had studied a little, looking up the word “ingrate,” and all.

Still, I didn’t have much faith I was going to perform very well, given how little sleep I’d had and how worried I was over Lady Serena.

Caroline, Sophie, and Erica tried to comfort me, but there really wasn’t very much they could say or do, even though it was nice of them to try—especially Caroline, because she didn’t feel too well on account of having eaten
way too many of Mrs. Harrington’s chocolate-chocolate chip cookies that Erica had brought over for the slumber party (Sophie suggested maybe Caroline’s stomachache was because of a parasite in the dirty dumpling dough, but I pointed out that none of the rest of us were sick, and Caroline
had
eaten about thirty of those cookies. Even Sophie had to agree this was true).

I just couldn’t get the picture of beautiful Lady Serena, with her long silver-blue fur, lying on a veterinary hospital gurney with an oxygen mask over her little cat nose, panting for breath, out of my head. If only I knew whether or not she was going to be okay!

It was hard enough to pay attention during my first class, math, what with wondering whether I was going to get a baby kitten after all. But then there was the anticipation of the spelling bee, which caused everyone to keep glancing at the clock. It was going to be held down in the gym because that was the only room big enough for both fourth-grade classes. Everyone was waiting for Mrs. Hunter to say, “Okay, class. It’s time to line up.” Some people in the class—like Rosemary, who actually liked competition
(unlike me.
It’s never fun when somebody loses and ends up crying
…that’s a rule)—couldn’t wait, they were so excited. They kept whispering things like, “We’re going to smear Danielson’s class” and “Caroline’s going to win. Wait and see,” because Caroline had won the third-grade spelling bee last year.

Which was good. I was glad I was friends with the girl who was going to win. And it took some of the pressure off me. Even though I don’t like competition, I sure didn’t want to be in the
losing
class. Or be the person who caused our class to lose.

And then before I knew it Mrs. Hunter was saying, “All right, class. It’s time. I hope you’re ready,” which I most definitely was not (if Mom and Dad would just let me have a cell phone, I could have called them to see if they’d heard anything about Lady Serena Archibald, and then I’d have known how she was doing and I wouldn’t have been so nervous. Why won’t they let me get a cell phone? It’s so unfair).

We all got into our lines and Mrs. Hunter started leading us down the stairs to the gym. On the way, we ran into
Mrs. Danielsons class, who were also going down to the gym. Even though we aren’t supposed to talk when we’re in our lines, I heard Rosemary go “We’re going to
kill
you” to Mrs. Danielson’s class. “See this girl?” Rosemary pointed to Caroline. “She’s going to knock you down and wipe you up
like a mop.

I wondered if Mrs. Danielson’s class was as scared as I’d been when Rosemary had told me she was going to beat me up. She hadn’t mentioned this to me in a while, but I knew this was only because she’d temporarily forgotten about me. Pretty soon I’d probably do something to remind Rosemary that she wanted to knock
me
down and wipe me up like a mop. It was really only a matter of time.

Still, Mrs. Danielson’s class didn’t look that scared. They trooped over to the chairs that Mr. Elkhart, the custodial arts manager, had set up for us to sit in, on their side of the gym, while we sat in the ones he’d set up for our class. Everyone was nervously talking and giggling, especially when we saw the neat row of ten chairs lined up beneath the basketball net in front of the stage and near the entrance
to the gym. I asked Erica what those chairs were for, and she said, “They’re for the ten finalists.”

I said, “Oh.” I really hoped I wouldn’t mess up if I got to be one of the ten finalists and I was standing in front of everyone. Especially if I was standing in front of Rosemary.

It was only then that Caroline whispered to me, “Allie, I don’t know if I can win this time. I’m really not feeling well.”

I whispered back, “Is it the cookies?”

Caroline, looking miserable, nodded. I swallowed hard. I couldn’t believe it. If Caroline didn’t win the spelling bee for our class, someone was going to get knocked down and wiped up like a mop.

And I had a feeling that someone wasn’t going to be in Mrs. Danielson’s class. It was going to be the kid from our class who missed the last word.

I for sure didn’t want that kid to be me.

That’s when the spelling bee started. Mrs. Hunter and Mrs. Danielson took turns going down the rows
asking kids to spell different words. To be fair, Mrs. Danielson took the kids from Mrs. Hunter’s class, and Mrs. Hunter took the kids from Mrs. Danielson’s class, so no kid had an unfair advantage of being asked words the teacher knew that he or she would get right. If a kid got a word right, then he or she stood up. If he or she got the word wrong, then he or she sat down and was out of the bee. That’s how it would get down to the final ten kids who would stand up in front of the whole gym.

Already Mrs. Danielson’s class was down four people and Mrs. Hunter’s class was down five when it was my turn. My heart was beating so hard when Mrs. Danielson got to me, I thought I was going to throw up.
Let it be an easy word,
I prayed.
Easy word, easy word.
Really, I had way more to worry about already than letting down my class. I mean, why me? I was maybe already the stepmother of a premature kitten! I didn’t need to lose a spelling bee on top of that already very stressful worry!

“Horse,” Mrs. Danielson said. “Allie, your word is ‘horse.’”

Oh, my gosh, could I have gotten an easier word? Really, I have been reading books about horses since the first grade. I stood up and was confidently about to spell “horse” when I glanced at Caroline and saw her eyebrows sloped downward in concern. Wait a second…why did Caroline look so worried? Everyone knew how to spell “horse.” Mark, in the second grade, could spell “horse.” What was the big deal?

Then I remembered. There were two different versions of the word “horse.”

Wow! I had almost missed my very first word, and because of an easy mistake!

“Could you use the word in a sentence, please?” I asked.

“Your voice is sounding very hoarse today,” Mrs. Danielson said.

Whoa! I had almost spelled the wrong version! I would have missed and been out because of a silly mistake! Good thing I’d looked at Caroline!

“Hoarse,” I said. “H-O-A-R-S-E. Hoarse.”

“Very good,” Mrs. Danielson said, smiling. “You may remain standing.”

I glanced over at Mrs. Hunter and saw her give me a big smile. Phew! I hadn’t let down the class. I sneaked a glance at Rosemary. She didn’t exactly smile at me, but she didn’t look like she wanted to kill me, either. I didn’t really get to see what she thought, though, because Sophie, who was standing on the other side of me from Erica, nudged me and whispered, “Look!”

I looked and saw that it was Prince Peter’s turn, over on Mrs. Danielson’s side of the gym. He stood up and, looking handsome in a green sweater, correctly spelled the word “urgent.”

“Like my love for him,” Sophie whispered to me. “It’s very
urgent.

Then we both started to giggle, until Mrs. Danielson looked over in our direction and said, “Girls,” in a stern voice. And we both stopped laughing right away. I’m so glad Mrs. Hunter is our teacher and not her. It must be terrible to have a teacher that old, with a neck that wobbles so
much. I would cry every single day if Mrs. Danielson was my teacher.

The spelling bee kept going until soon there were more people sitting down than standing up—and I was one of them! Sophie got knocked out on “excite”—which is a hard word—and Erica missed on “embarrass”—also really hard. I only got “embarrass” right because I guessed after hearing Erica spell it wrong with one “r.” Then later I got “wallaby,” which is a type of macropod, otherwise known as a kangaroo or wallaroo. Really, it isn’t fair to give me any type of animal word because I’ve read every book in the library about them, and I went through an extreme kangaroo phase in the second grade.

Then the next thing I knew, I was in the final ten! I couldn’t believe it! Suddenly, I was walking up to stand in front of both fourth-grade classes, with Caroline and one other kid from our class, a boy named Lenny Hsu. That was it! We were the only ones left from Mrs. Hunter’s class! Everyone else in the final ten, including Peter Jacobs, was from Mrs. Danielson’s class.

Caroline, I could tell, really wasn’t feeling well. She was sweating, and her face looked a little green. I couldn’t believe that a full day after eating all those cookies, she was still sick. Although she
had
eaten an awful lot of them. Mrs. Harrington is a terrific baker.

And sure enough, two words after Lenny had to sit down because he misspelled “mischief,” Mrs. Danielson gave Caroline the word “geriatric,” and she was out.

I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t believe it. You could tell that everyone in the whole gym was stunned. The champion speller, out on such an easy word? It wasn’t even a sixth- or seventh-grade word. “Geriatric” was a fifth-grade word! And Caroline Wu had missed it! No one could understand what had happened.

No one except those of us who knew about Mrs. Harrington’s chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, of course.

Now I was the only person from Mrs. Hunter’s class standing in the front of the gym—me and Prince Peter. The pressure was just too much! I knew I was going to crack. Because
When the mother of your kitten is at the veterinary hospital in premature labor, and you don’t know if you’re going to get
a cat or not, and a girl in your class says she’s going to beat you up, and you know if you mess up, she’s going to do it for
sure,
it’s hard to concentrate on spelling.

That’s a rule.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’d do okay. Maybe Mrs. Danielson would give me the word “ingrate,” and I would spell it correctly, and I would win the spelling bee for our class, and everyone would lift me onto their shoulders and carry me around, cheering, and people at Pine Heights Elementary would stop considering me the New Girl…

…and Rosemary Dawkins wouldn’t want to kill me anymore.

It could happen.

RULE #5
Friends—and Queens—Don’t Let Each Other Get Beaten Up

Except it totally didn’t.

What happened instead was all the kids in Mrs. Hunter’s class, out in the audience in the gym, led by Rosemary, were totally making me super nervous every time I got a word by chanting my name like I was a football player or something. They kept going, “AL-LIE! AL-LIE!”

And that wasn’t actually helping. That was actually doing the opposite of helping. It was making me
more
nervous. Like, it was making my hands start to sweat and making me want to go out into the hallway to get a drink of water.

Only you couldn’t go out into the hallway to get a drink of water. Because this was the fourth-grade spelling
bee, and it was serious. Our class had to win, or we’d be completely humiliated. Also, Rosemary Dawkins might kill me.

But all I could think about was that at this very moment, Lady Serena Archibald might actually be dying. Really, literally,
dying.
And I didn’t even know it. I was at school in a stupid spelling bee. What did knowing how to spell words even matter? When I was a grown-up I would have a computer at my job like my mom and dad, anyway, and that computer would have a spell-checker on it. So why did I even need to know how to spell?

Plus, I want to be a veterinarian, like the one who was hopefully saving Lady Serena’s life right now. How did knowing how to spell help you to be a better veterinarian?

It was right then that Mrs. Danielson said, “Allie? Are you ready?” and I realized it was my turn again.

I couldn’t believe it! Already? It felt like it had just been my turn. Hadn’t I spelled “anarchy”? I was so tired from getting no sleep from staying up all night worrying, plus from telling ghost stories for hours the night before.

But just like last time, Rosemary was leading all the boys who sat in the last row with her in Mrs. Hunter’s class in chiming, “AL-LIE! AL-LIE!” The whole class, I knew, was counting on me. Me, the New Girl. I couldn’t let them down.

“Allie,” Mrs. Danielson said. “Your word is ‘doctor.’ ‘Doctor.’”

I wiped my sweat-soaked hands on my jeans, feeling relieved. Doctor! That was easy.

“Doctor,” I said. “D-O-C-T—”

Wait. Wait a minute. Was it E-R? Or O-R? I couldn’t remember. I was so tired. Doctor? Or docter? They both sounded right. Which
was
it?

It had to be E-R. Because that’s where doctors work. In an ER. ER stands for emergency room. So it had to be D-O-C-T-E-R.

I glanced over at Caroline for support in the audience…but she wasn’t there anymore. She had been led out to go to the nurse’s office. Maybe they’d have to take her to the ER.

It had to be E-R. It just
had
to…

“E-R,” I finished.

“That is incorrect,” Mrs. Danielson said.

What? Oh, no!

Mrs. Hunter’s entire fourth-grade class groaned…but none so loudly as Rosemary.

That was it. I was dead. Again.

Keeping my head down, my gaze glued to my shoes, I slunk back to my seat, barely comforted by the pats Erica and Sophie gave me as I sat down.

“It’s all right,” Erica said. “I thought it was spelled that way, too.”

But that didn’t make me feel better. Especially when I risked a glance over my shoulder and saw Rosemary staring right at me, her eyes narrowed in a way that let me know that as soon as the spelling bee was over, I was a dead woman.

The spelling bee ended as soon as Prince Peter spelled “doctor” correctly (it was O-R, after all. Which makes sense, because doctors operate in an operating room called
an OR). So Mrs. Danielson’s class was the one that got to celebrate. And Rosemary hated me more than ever, as was quickly proved when we were going out the gym doors to head upstairs to get our coats before walking home for lunch, and Rosemary leaned over and hissed, “I’m still going to kill you, Finkle. Don’t think I forgot. Because I haven’t.”

Caroline, who was standing nearby, having been let out of the nurse’s office, overheard her and gave me a serious look.

“Allie.” She came over to me to whisper. “You
have
to tell Mrs. Hunter. If you won’t,
I
will.”

“No,” I said. “It’s okay. Really. I have it all under control.”

Caroline gave me a weird look, like,
What are you talking about? No, you don’t.

But the last thing I wanted was Mrs. Hunter getting involved and punishing Rosemary again. That would only get Rosemary even
more
mad at me.

Of course,
Pretending like you have things under control and
actually
having
things under control are two very different things
(this is a rule). This was made all too clear to us when we were filing out to lunch and Peter Jacobs walked up while I was heading downstairs with Sophie, Caroline, and Erica.

“Hi,” Peter said to me. “I just wanted to say that I hope there’s no hard feelings. I didn’t think you’d strike out on something as easy as the word ‘doctor,’ Allie.”

I felt my cheeks getting hot. I couldn’t believe Prince Peter knew my name! But I guess it wasn’t any big surprise, seeing how the class had been chanting it and all. I threw a glance at Sophie and saw that her face was as pink as I knew mine was probably turning.

“The mother of Allie’s future kitten is really sick,” Erica told Peter quickly. “She’s really worried about her. She’s in the cat hospital!”

“Oh,” Peter said, his expression going from teasing to concerned. “I’m really sorry. No wonder you had a hard time with a word like ‘doctor.’ I hope she gets better soon.”

“Thanks, Pr—I mean, Peter,” I said.

Oh, my gosh! I almost called him
Prince
Peter! Beside me, I could hear Sophie trying not to burst into giggles. I had to keep my gaze on the ground to prevent myself from doing the same thing. Fortunately, Peter went away before we collapsed against each other in hysterical laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Kevin wanted to know, coming over to meet us so we could walk him home.

“Didn’t you hear what she said?” Sophie asked, wiping laugh tears from her eyes.

“Never mind,” Caroline said, taking Kevin’s hand. “Come on. Let’s get you home.”

“Awwww,” Kevin said, sad that he wasn’t being let in on the secret.

“That was nice of Peter to say that about Lady Serena,” Erica said as we walked out of the school.

“Yes,” I said. I couldn’t really feel too good about Peter’s niceness, though, because it was in such sharp contrast with Rosemary’s meanness. I mean, the part about how she was waiting to kill me. Plus, I was still worrying about the whole Lady-Serena-maybe-probably-dying part.

When I got home for lunch, though, and was hanging up my coat, Mom came into the mudroom off the garage (which is where she’d decided we kids needed to start coming into the house, now that she knew Grandma was coming to visit at the end of the month. She was hoping it would keep some of our mess contained in one place) and said, “Allie, I just got off the phone with Mrs. Hauser.”

I swear, I think my heart must have skipped
two
beats at this news.

“And?” I asked, hoping my prayers had been answered and I hadn’t done all that worrying for nothing.

“And this morning at the vet’s office Lady Serena gave birth to six kittens,” Mom said.

I caught my breath. Six baby kittens! “Oh!”

“But,” Mom went on, a serious look on her face, “before you get too excited, they were born way, way too early, and the doctor isn’t sure that they’re all going to make it.”

“Oh,” I said in a different tone of voice, my hopes all fading.

“On the bright side,” Mom said, “Lady Serena is going to be all right. That’s really what matters to Mrs. Hauser. She’s too small a cat to have been carrying that many kittens.”

Well, that was true. Lady Serena was a very fragile, ladylike cat.

“Do you think,” I asked, following Mom into the kitchen, where she was making our lunch of microwaved chicken noodle soup and cheese and crackers, “I could go over to the animal hospital to see the kittens? And Lady Serena, too, of course?”

“Oh, no, honey,” Mom said. “Mrs. Hauser said Lady Serena is in intensive care.”

I couldn’t help feeling more worried than ever. How was I going to be able to choose my kitten? Mrs. Hauser had promised me first pick from the litter. I know it was selfish to be thinking that when they were still so little and sick.

But when I mentioned this out loud, Mom said, “Oh, honey, the kittens are still too tiny to even have opened their eyes. Mrs. Hauser says they’re completely hairless.”

“Like newts,” Mark said cheerfully.

“Shut up,” I said. I was really, really mad at him all of a sudden. “Kittens are nothing like newts.”

“They are when they’re that little,” Mark said. “And have no hair.”

“They are not,” I insisted. “Mom, make Mark stop it.”

“Mark, stop teasing your sister,” Mom said. “Allie, you’re just going to have to be patient about your kitten. Mrs. Hauser is doing the best she can in a bad situation. Now sit down and eat. How was school today so far?”

“Allie lost the fourth-grade spelling bee,” Kevin said conversationally as he shoveled cheese and crackers into his face. “In front of everyone. And a boy named Peter talked to her.”

Fortunately, Kevin didn’t know anything about Rosemary wanting to kill me. He hadn’t overheard
that
part of the conversation. What little he’d said upset Mom enough. It’s important that, when they ask, you tell your parents some stuff about what happened in school that day. But not
everything.
Because sometimes if you tell them everything, they call your teacher and complain, and that could make
everything even worse. This had actually happened to me one time when a kid in second grade kept trying to kiss me on the playground at recess (later I figured out it was because he liked me. Ew. Also,
ew
). I told my mom and she called the kid’s mom and his mom took away his PlayStation to punish him and he was so mad about it that at recess he came up and knocked over the stick village I had made for the invisible people who lived in the dirt (I was very immature in the second grade and thought invisible people lived in the dirt on the playground).

So
You have to be careful what you tell your mom. At least if she’s the kind of mom who is just going to make things worse
, like my mom sometimes does.

This a rule.

Finally, Mom got done fussing over my losing the spelling bee in front of everyone and let me go so I could meet Erica outside. We walked slowly back to school together, shuffling through the dead leaves, while I told her about Lady Serena. Erica agreed it was unfair that I wasn’t allowed to go to the animal hospital to see how Lady Serena was
doing. I am actually extremely good around animals. I am the only one in our family who takes care of Marvin, our dog, except for Dad, who walks him. My help could totally be invaluable to the vet technicians. I once took a nail out of Marvin’s paw pad. True, it hadn’t been in that deep, but if left inside, it could have festered and caused an infection. How could Mom not have remembered?

We met Sophie and Caroline by the stop sign at the corner, where she and Caroline turned off to go to their houses. Caroline said she felt a lot better now that her dad had given her some medicine for her stomach and that she was sorry she had let us all down. Sophie said the real problem wasn’t Caroline and her losing the spelling bee to Prince Peter but what we were going to do about Allie and Rosemary.

“What?” I said as innocently as I could. “There’s no problem with Rosemary.”

“Allie,” Caroline said, “she’s totally going to want to kill you after this. You lost the spelling bee for our class. You know how competitive she is.”

“We’re just going to have to figure out a way to protect Allie,” Erica said firmly. “That’s what queens do for one another. Right?”

“Us?” Sophie said. She looked a little scared. “How are we going to do that? I mean…Rosemary’s way bigger than we are. Not to mention stronger.”

“Not if we stick together,” Caroline said. “Erica’s right. We just have to be Allie’s bodyguards and never leave her alone for a second on the playground. Rosemary won’t dare try anything if we’re around and can run for Mrs. Hunter.”

“You guys,” I said, touched by this gesture. Really. My heart swelled with love for them. I couldn’t believe how sweet they were being, especially considering I was just the New Girl. They had to be the best friends I had ever had. Even if none of them had officially declared themselves my best friend. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Yes, we do,” Caroline said. “That’s what friends are for.”

“And queens,” Erica said. “Don’t forget queens.”

Sophie nodded, although she still looked a little scared. “It’s true,” she said.

I almost started to cry, I thought this was so nice of them. Because it really is true:

Friends

and queens

don’t let each other get beaten up.

That’s totally a rule.

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