Read The New Girl Online

Authors: Meg Cabot

The New Girl (9 page)

“The little one with the stripes,” I said.

“Oh, isn’t that one a little sweetheart?” Mrs. Hauser asked. “I know. Brittany calls that one Stripey.”

I didn’t want to hear about what Mrs. Hauser’s daughter, Brittany, was calling MY kitten. Stripey was a totally unimaginative name for a striped cat, anyway.

“Is Stripey a boy kitten,” I asked, “or a girl kitten? I really want a girl kitten.”

“Well, let me see,” Mrs. Hauser said. And she reached into the boot box and picked up the tiny kitten.

“Excuse me, Mama,” she said to Lady Serena, who just purred harder. Then she tilted up the striped kitten and looked beneath its tail.

Please, I prayed. Let it be a girl. After my rotten, rotten day—my rotten year—let it be a girl.

“You’re in luck,” Mrs. Hauser said. “Stripey’s a girl!”

I let out a weird, squeaking sound I was so happy and threw a look at my mom, sitting on the bed a few feet away. She smiled back at me.

“Can I hold her?” I asked Mrs. Hauser.

“Of course you can,” Mrs. Hauser said, and passed the tiny kitten to me. “But be careful. Her eyes have only been open for a few days. Everything is very new to her.”

“I will be,” I said, and held out my hands for Mrs. Hauser to put Mewsette into them for the very first time.

I couldn’t believe how little she was! Smaller than one of my hands! And she weighed practically nothing. She was light as a feather. And as soft as one, too. She had a white belly and throat, and a gray back and tail with black stripes, and white feet, and a pink nose and bright blue eyes that looked into mine with a wide-eyed, confused gaze, as if to say, “Are you my mom? Hey, no, you’re not. Where’s my mom?”

She was completely perfect in every way. I wanted to take her home right then and there, but I knew she wasn’t ready, and neither was I. I didn’t have her food or food bowls or
litter box. I didn’t have her pink rhinestone collar or her pink feathered canopy cat bed. I had a lot of stuff to do to get ready for her!

Looking at me looking down at her, Mewsette opened her mouth and went, “Aarh?”

Mrs. Hauser laughed. “She likes you!”

“I love her,” I said simply. Because it was true.

“Are you sure?” Mom asked from the bed. “You haven’t even looked at the other kittens.”

“No,” I said. I didn’t need to look at the other kittens. “This is my kitten. This is Mewsette.”

“Mewsette,” Mrs. Hauser said. “What a pretty name. Much nicer than Stripey.”

I didn’t want to say “I know,” because that would have been rude. Instead I just said, “Thank you.”
The polite thing to say when someone gives you a compliment is Thank you.
That’s a rule. It’s rude to say anything else, really.

“Mewsette,” I said to Mewsette, seeing how she liked her name. She went, “Aarh?” again, and Lady Serena answered back with a “Maowr?” and Mewsette started looking
around for her mom, so I figured it was best to return her to the boot box.

So I did, and quick as a wink her brothers and sisters started stepping on her head, but she got in there and started stepping on their heads right back at them. It was clear that Mewsette was a fighter. After all, she’d been through a lot.

Just like me.

“Oh, I’m so glad you all could come,” Mrs. Hauser said, smiling at us. “So is today parent-teacher conferences or something in your new school district? How come you don’t have to be in school?”

“We’re just taking a little vacation,” Mom said. “My mother-in-law is visiting.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Hauser said, with a laugh. “In that case, I bet you could use a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, too.”

“You know what?” Mom said. “I really could.”

So we joined Mark and Kevin downstairs (they hadn’t managed to break anything while we were gone) and had
milk and cookies. I was a little worried because I was missing science class. I wondered if maybe Rosemary would think I was missing science because of her. Like, that I was afraid to come back after what had happened on the playground.

Would anyone believe me if I told them the truth, that I’d gone home for lunch and my grandma had tried to buy my parents a stove they hadn’t wanted, so my mom had taken us to McDonald’s, then to pick out my new kitten?
almost couldn’t believe it, it seemed so unreal. And it was happening to me.

The truth was, my life was crazy. And about to get crazier than even I could have imagined. I didn’t have the slightest idea.

If Someone Wants to Beat You Up, Try Psyching Her Out

When we got home from school later that day (Mom made Mark and me go back to Pine Heights after our visit to Mrs. Hauser’s, even though I begged to have the rest of the day off because I didn’t want Rosemary to continue what she’d started on the playground…only fortunately she got in trouble for headbutting Stuart Maxwell during PE so she had to stay in at afternoon recess and write an essay about the importance of learning to love your neighbor, so I was safe), the new stove was gone. And so was Grandma.

The stove had been taken back to the store. Grandma, it turned out, was just at Uncle Jay’s apartment. She’d be back after dinner, which she was having with Uncle Jay and
Harmony. Mom was celebrating not having Grandma around by taking a long, hot bubble bath. We weren’t supposed to disturb her. Instead, Dad let us watch all the television we wanted so long as we kept the volume down. It was like Christmas, Easter, and our birthdays all rolled into one. I remembered how much I loved it when Grandma came to visit. I called Erica and asked if she wanted to come over, and she did (she hardly ever gets to watch what she wants on TV, being the youngest child in a family of five). We watched two hours of Disney Channel and one hour of Nick uninterrupted. It was heaven.

Then we had home-delivered pizza for dinner, with cinnamon sticks for dessert that you dip into this kind of frosting. Erica asked if she could stay over for dinner, and my parents said yes and so did hers. We ate so much of the frosting stuff that we both nearly threw up. I told her all about Mewsette, and we had a good time setting everything up in my room in preparation for Mewsette’s arrival. I explained how small Mewsette was and that the primary challenge would be to keep her from falling through one of the squares of the heating grate in the floor (it could
happen), so we cordoned off a special area of my room that was just for Mewsette, blocking it off with my Polly Pocket Polly-Tastic Jumbo Jet Playset (whatever, it’s not like I play with it anymore) and what was left of my geode collection.

Then we set up her temporary bed in Missy’s tap-shoe box and pretended one of my old Beanie Baby kittens from the post office was Mewsette so we could practice taking care of her.

But it wasn’t the same, really, as having a live kitten. Maybe because it had a forty-one-cent stamp as decoration on its rear end.

Finally, Dad yelled up the stairs that he was going to go pick up Grandma and did any of us want to go with him.

I didn’t want to go because I was having a nice time hanging out with Erica, but then Dad said it wasn’t actually a question, so Erica had to go home.

So Mark and Kevin and I all piled into the car and Dad drove us over to Uncle Jay’s apartment building while Mom stayed home to clean up the dinner dishes. When we got
to where Uncle Jay lived, Uncle Jay was sitting in the living room watching his TV that’s as big as a normal person’s couch, and Grandma and Harmony were nowhere to be seen. Uncle Jay explained that was because Harmony had gone home, and Grandma was in Uncle Jay’s bedroom because she’d decided she was going to stay in a hotel, because she was so mad about Mom and Dad sending the stove back. She was on the phone calling around to different hotels, trying to get the most competitive rate.

“Jay,” Dad said, sounding mad, “I thought you were going to talk to her.”

“I did,” Uncle Jay said. “And now she’s mad at me, too.”

“Great,” Dad said. “Kids, wait here. I’m going to go talk to your grandma.”

Mark and Kevin went to look at Wang Ba, Uncle Jay’s pet turtle, who lives in the tub of his spare bathroom. That left me alone with Uncle Jay.

“Uncle Jay,” I said, watching as some cops on the TV show he was looking at tackled a perp and his shirt came
off as they put handcuffs on him. “Has anyone ever wanted to beat you up?”

“Sure,” Uncle Jay said, “lots of times. Especially the year I lived in Shanghai. Why? Does someone want to beat you up?”

“Yeah,” I said. “This girl in my new class named Rosemary.”

Uncle Jay whistled and lowered the volume on his TV a little. “What did you do to her?” he wanted to know.

“I didn’t do anything to her,” I said with a shrug. “I’m just the New Girl.”

“That’ll do it sometimes, I guess,” Uncle Jay said. “So, when’s the fight going to go down?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “She just keeps saying she’s going to kill me.”

“She bigger than you?” Uncle Jay asked.

“Way bigger,” I said miserably. “She’s the biggest person in my class.”

“Figures,” Uncle Jay said. “You tell your mom and dad?”

“I told my dad,” I said. “You know I can’t tell my mom.”

“Right,” Uncle Jay said, nodding. He knew about the Kissing Kid, because I’d told him a long time ago. “Well, what did your dad say?”

“He showed me how to punch someone in the nose.”

Uncle Jay looked impressed. “Really? Show me.”

I showed him.

“Okay,” Uncle Jay said. “You got a decent swing on you. Tell you what you do next. You gotta psych her out.”

“Psych her out?”

“Right. I know what I’m talking about, because I’m a psych minor. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred with these bullies, they’re bluffing. They don’t really want to fight you.”

I thought about Rosemary’s face today on the playground.

“I don’t think Rosemary’s bluffing,” I said.

“Well, you gotta find out,” Uncle Jay said. “That’s why next time she tells you she’s going to kill you, you turn it
around. Tell her, ‘No, actually, Rosemary,
going to kill

I love my uncle Jay. He’s funny, and he saved Wang Ba when no one else would. Also, he always gives us whole cans of soda when we come over, and we aren’t even allowed to have sugared soda at all. And he lets us watch whatever we want on his ginormous TV.

But he doesn’t always give us the best advice.

“But I don’t want to kill Rosemary,” I said. “I just want to be friends with Rosemary.”

“I know,” Uncle Jay said. “That’s the thing. She doesn’t really want to kill you. And you don’t really want to kill her. You’re calling her bluff. When you say, ‘Actually, Rosemary,
going to kill
,’ she’ll be so surprised, she’ll back off.”

“Actually,” I said, “I think what she’ll probably do is punch me in the face.”

“No, she won’t,” Uncle Jay said. “But if she does, just punch her back.”

“Okay, Uncle Jay,” I said. “Thanks a lot for that advice.”

This was basically the worst advice I had ever gotten from anyone. But
It’s not polite to tell someone their advice stinks.
This is a rule. Especially since Uncle Jay has always been so nice to me.

So I just thanked him and kept watching TV with him. I didn’t really know what else to do. Mark and Kevin came out a few minutes later and joined us, and we had a good time watching the cops on the TV show tell a lady who was yelling at them that her son had violated his parole and was going to jail whether she liked it or not. Which she didn’t. She said a whole bunch of things about it, but you couldn’t tell what they were because they all got bleeped out. Uncle Jay told us that this was an example of Americana at its finest, and that he was watching this show for his popular media class. Which meant he was taking a class where the homework was watching TV, which made me think I couldn’t wait to get to college.

It was right after this that Dad came out with Grandma. Grandma didn’t look too happy. Dad said, “Okay, I think we got that all straightened out. Grandma is going to come
home with us now. Kids, you’re happy Grandma is coming with us, aren’t you? Because she has the craziest idea none of us care about her.”

“I care!” Kevin yelled, jumping up from Uncle Jay’s futon couch. “I care about you, Grandma!” Then he ran over and gave Grandma a hug. Mark and I exchanged glances because this was the fakiest display of affection either of us had ever seen, and we both knew it all had to do with a certain pirate book.

Then we remembered about the stuff we wanted Grandma to buy us. So we each popped up and ran over to give Grandma a hug, too.

It’s not that I don’t care about Grandma. I do. When she isn’t saying mean things about what I’ve ordered in restaurants, Grandma is kind of cool. She has really pretty rings and she always smells good and she tells funny stories about Dad and Uncle Jay when they were little. When she isn’t mad about something, Grandma is fun to have around.

The problem is, Grandma is usually mad about something.

Still, it wasn’t her fault about the stove. She was just trying to be nice.

“Well,” Grandma said, hugging us kids back—but just a little. “If you’re all sure.”

“They’re sure, Ma,” Uncle Jay said, not looking away from the TV.

“I don’t know what Elizabeth is going to say,” Grandma said.

“Mom wants you to come back, too, Grandma,” Mark said, giving Grandma’s legs an extra tight squeeze.

“Well, I suppose,” Grandma said. “It’s just till the end of the week, after all.”

“You have to stay longer than that, Grandma,” I said. “You have to stay long enough to see my new kitten!”

Mark shot me a mean look and hugged Grandma’s legs tighter.

“No,” he said. “You have to stay until Christmas!”

“No,” Kevin said. “Until forever!”

“Let’s not push it,” Dad said. “Okay, come on, kids. Let’s go home.”

If Mom wasn’t happy to see Grandma, she did a good job of pretending otherwise. She made a big fuss out of how glad she was that we were home and asking how Grandma’s time with Uncle Jay had been (according to Grandma, not good: “How can he live like that? Like some kind of gypsy! If he’d stayed in the premed program, he’d have been in graduate school by now, and at the very least own his own home”) and what she’d thought of Harmony (Grandma had liked her: “At least
got some ambition”).

Everything was going really well until bedtime, when Mom said, all casually, “Everyone better get plenty of sleep tonight, we have a big day tomorrow,” and I was, like, “Why? What’s tomorrow?” and Mom said, “Your big spelling bee, of course,” and I was, like, “HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THAT?” and Mom said Mrs. Harrington, Erica’s mom, had told her. Also that Mom and Dad and Grandma and maybe even Uncle Jay and Harmony would be coming. COMING. To my spelling bee! In the middle of the day!

I told Mom that that really wouldn’t be necessary. Also that she didn’t understand. Pine Heights Elementary wasn’t like my old school. Parents didn’t come to things like the championship spelling bee between the fourth- and fifth-graders.

Also that if she came, it would totally embarrass me.

But nothing I said made any difference. Mom said she and Dad were completely proud of me for making it into the top ten spellers out of both fourth grades in the whole school, especially since spelling wasn’t even one of my best subjects. They were both totally coming to the spelling bee, and there was nothing I could do about it.

This made me want to die. I went to bed unable to think of anything but how embarrassing it was going to be when all the fourth- and fifth-graders looked out and saw my parents—and
—sitting in the gym. Why were they doing this to me? It wasn’t fair. Why did I have to have the weirdest family in our whole town? Finkles weren’t even funny. They were just plain STRANGE.

And tomorrow, everyone in my whole class was going to know it.

Including Rosemary.

Who would probably punch me in the face because of it.

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