Authors: Laura Dower
For Rich, Myles, and Olivia,
my “crowd” of three
S MADISON FINN GLARED
at the writing on the blackboard in Mr. Gibbons’s classroom, the words blurred together. Her eyes watered, so she reached into her orange bag for a tissue.
Today’s Mental Floss
If an international airliner crashed exactly on the U.S.
Mexican border, where would authorities be required to bury the survivors?
Madison blinked. The answer didn’t come easily. And now her nose was leaking. Why wasn’t the cold pill Mom had given her that morning at breakfast working? Forget the cold pill. Why wasn’t her
“Mr. Gibbons always asks such random stuff,” Egg Diaz whispered to Madison. Egg was one of Madison’s best guy friends. He was a whiz at video games, computers,
“Like my brain isn’t tired enough,” sniffed Fiona Waters, one of Madison’s best girlfriends. Her nose was running, too. “Mental floss sounds
“Shhhhh!” Madison said. She didn’t want Mr. Gibbons to catch them talking when they should all have been working out the answer.
Unbeknownst to her pals, Madison secretly loved all the brain twisters and obscure homework assignments Mr. Gibbons offered in his class. They made her think differently. She liked that. Unfortunately, that day’s “floss” had all three friends super stumped. They would have to wait until the end of class for an answer. The three pulled out their copies of
for class discussion.
“Before we get started, I have a special assignment for you,” Mr. Gibbons announced to the room with a wink. “It’s a creative research project that the entire seventh grade will be working on….”
“Oh, no,” a boy in the back of the room groaned. “Isn’t it early in the year for a research project?”
Mr. Gibbons chuckled. “Quite the contrary, Mark,” he said, shuffling the stack. “Early on is a perfect time to get serious about your work. Don’t you all think so?”
in the room groaned.
Row by row, Mr. Gibbons passed out sets of stapled yellow pages. On the top page, Madison read the bold, blue headline, “Cross-Curricular Seventh Grade Webpage Project.” She glanced over at Egg with a half grin. Together, she, Egg, and their other friend Drew Maxwell, worked on the school website together. Maybe this assignment wouldn’t be so awful after all. …
“As you can see,” Mr. Gibbons continued. “This isn’t really an English assignment. It covers
subjects. The twist is that you’ll be doing your paper online and with a team of students. Your other seventh grade teachers will be discussing more with you today.”
Madison’s eyes scanned the page.
Suggested Webpage Topics:
- Egyptians and the pyramids
- UFO sightings: real or hoax?
- Sinking of the Titanic
- The origins of baseball and how the game has changed
- Saving the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge
- Magic and optical illusions
- Ben Franklin’s inventions
Be creative. But think smart. No web essays on extreme sports, serial killers, video games, or biographies of current celebrities, rap stars, or sports stars. All topics must be approved first.
Although it seemed like an interesting project, Madison found herself staring into space, or at least into the space on the linoleum floor between the two desks in front of her. It was getting harder and harder to think about work—or anything else—when her ears felt this hot.
“Maddie?” Fiona sniffled again. “You don’t look so good.”
“Huh?” Madison grunted, turning around to face her friend. She coughed. “Yeah. I don’t feel so good.”
“Did you see Aimee this morning?” Fiona asked. “She isn’t feeling so good, either.”
Aimee Gillespie was Madison’s and Fiona’s other best friend.
“Ladies?” Mr. Gibbons said as he came and stood between them. “Can I help you with something? Do you have questions about the handout?”
Fiona let out a loud cough. “Um … not exactly.”
“Gee, that cough doesn’t sound too good,” Mr. Gibbons commented.
“I’m sort of sick,” Fiona admitted.
“There are a lot of sick kids in school today,” Mr. Gibbons mused.
“I know. Madison is sick, too,” Fiona added.
Right on cue, Madison wiped her eyes and nose with wadded-up tissue.
“Oh, I get it,” Mr. Gibbons said with a smile. He scratched his head and pointed to the classroom door. “Maybe you two should take a walk … to the nurse.”
Fiona let out a satisfied squeak as Mr. Gibbons walked back to his desk to fill out a hall pass.
“You’re good, Fiona,” Madison said under her breath. She reached down for her orange bag with another loud sniffle.
“You always get to escape,” Egg said. “Typical.”
“Oh, Egg,” Fiona said, holding back more sniffles. She cocked her head to the side and laughed a little. Even sick, Fiona found ways to flirt with Egg. They’d been “dating” since seventh grade started. Of course their dates mostly consisted of group trips to Freeze Palace, the movies, and the library, but they were still happy to be called a couple.
No one in class seemed to pay much attention to Fiona or Madison as they headed for the door. Everyone else was too busy reading and talking about the new webpage project.
“Look over that work sheet, you hear?” Mr. Gibbons told Fiona and Madison as he handed them the hall pass. “And read chapters eight and nine in
I hope you’re back in class tomorrow.”
“Um … Mr. Gibbons?” Madison asked before walking out. “What was today’s floss?” Normally, Mr. Gibbons gave kids the answer at the end of class. Madison couldn’t leave without finding out.
“Ahhh. The floss! Today’s was a really tricky question,” he said quietly, so that no one else in the room would hear. “Read it carefully again, Madison. Think. Why would anyone bury
“Duh!” Madison said groggily. “That’s a good one.
“How do you think this stuff up?” Fiona asked with a cough.
Mr. Gibbons shook his head. “Get thyselves to the nurse’s office, young ladies, before we all catch your bugs, okay?”
Madison slung her bag over her shoulder and followed Fiona to the staircase. Together they headed to Nurse Shim’s office, otherwise known as The Dungeon, because it was located in the basement at school. Sometimes kids called Nurse Shim the Dungeon Keeper. Entering her dark office was like entering a prison with checkpoints and sign-up sheets and NO TALKING signs posted everywhere. She was the ogress of Far Hills Junior High, and everyone knew better than to cross her.
“Hall passes, pah-lease!” Nurse Shim cried as soon as Fiona and Madison entered the office.
At the front of the office sat a very large desk, chairs, and a giant, fluorescent floor lamp with a lampshade like a turban. In the back were a few musty-smelling cots. Along the side walls stood cabinets half filled with bandages, tissues, cotton balls, and other first-aid items. The school had used to store aspirin and other medicines, but then the rules had changed. Medication was no longer distributed on the premises.
Madison and Fiona quickly produced their passes and sat down in a couple of the metal chairs in front of Nurse Shim’s desk. Since they both complained of fever and chills, each girl was given a thermometer to check her temperature.
“One hundred and one degrees,” Nurse Shim said as she read Fiona’s thermometer. Madison’s was close to 102. “I guess we’re sending you gals home.”
Nurse Shim picked up her telephone. “What’s your mom’s number?” She asked Fiona first. Fiona wheezed a little as she repeated the number and watched Nurse Shim dial.
“Hey! Fiona! Maddie! What are you guys doing here?” a voice called out from the doorway.
Madison and Fiona whirled around to see Aimee standing there. She had her backpack and coat in her arms.
Nurse Shim grabbed Aimee’s pass, too. “Sit,” she barked.
Aimee rolled her eyes and sneezed. “I feel so-o-o gross,” she mumbled to her friends, collapsing into a chair. “Why are you here?”
“This so weird,” Madison said. “We’re all sick at the same time. What are the odds of that?”
“I’d rather be anywhere but here.” Aimee sneezed again.
“What a weird coincidence. Like fate or something. Don’tcha think?” Fiona said, rubbing her nose.
“Excuse me, ladies,” Nurse Shim interrupted with a scowl. “Miss Waters, I spoke to your father and he will be coming to school to get you. Now, what about you, Miss Finn? Whom should I call?”
“My mom is in a work meeting,” Madison said. “And I don’t know where the meeting is.”
Madison didn’t want to admit that she’d left a slip of paper with all of Mom’s contact information on the kitchen counter at home.
“What about your father?” Nurse Shim asked.
“He’s away on business,” Madison said.
“Can’t you call your mom on her cell phone?” Fiona asked.
Madison shook her head. “She doesn’t have it. It broke last week.”
Nurse Shim tapped her fingers on her big steel desk. “Without a parent’s consent, you cannot leave the school,” she said, clucking her tongue.
“I have an idea,” Aimee cut in. “Call your dad on
cell and then call my mom. I know he’ll give permission for her to come get us both.”
Much to Madison’s relief, Aimee’s idea was a slam dunk. Nurse Shim got the permission she needed from Madison’s dad, and Mrs. Gillespie agreed to pick up both Aimee and Madison. She told them she would meet the girls in front of the school in fifteen minutes.
Aimee, Fiona, and Madison gathered their belongings and headed toward the front lobby as Nurse Shim waved them on with a grunt. Two other kids with sniffles and hall passes were waiting for her immediate attention.
As the girls made their way to the front lobby, the bell rang for the changing of classes. Kids poured into the hallway, rushing to lockers and classrooms.
“Maddie! Fiona! Aim! Over here!” a voice called out. It was Lindsay, their other BFF, heading back to her own locker. “Where have you been?” Lindsay asked, juggling a stack of books in her hands. Lindsay was usually heading to or coming from the school library and media center.
In response, Madison, Fiona, and Aimee coughed at the same time.
“Are you three sick?” Lindsay asked.
Madison rubbed her nose. “Don’t I look like Rudolph?” she said. “My nose feels redder than red.”
“Wow. You should go to the nurse,” Lindsay suggested.