Note: This is taken from the middle of the chapter, so as not to give anything away that for Book One. After you’ve read it, let me hear from you! Has anything like this happened to you? Do you feel sorry for Jocelyn in this scene? Why or why not?
The rest of the day went downhill from there, starting with Savannah’s mom picking us up for school.
You try carpooling with someone you’re not speaking to. Our teachers used to joke that Savannah and I were “joined at the hip,” we were so close—kind of funny since we look so different, stick-person Joss and Wonder Woman Savannah, but that’s how we were. Carpool, lunch, every single class, carpool again—then home to one of our houses, together. But these days Savannah leaves the front seat open so I get to sit there answering her mom’s questions, while she sits in back with Michael, dropping hints about what she and Tyler do together. By the time we got to school, I felt like a nine year-old.
Didn’t help that First Period is math. I don’t hate math, okay? I mean, I’m not one of those dumb girls who “don’t get it” and send Ms. Schneider into a lecture on You Girls Are Creating Your Own Negative Stereotypes. It’s just not my favorite, all this right or wrong, black or white neatness. There’s no wiggle room like there is with words.
Someone had passed out chocolate hearts and kids were stuffing them into their mouths before class started, because Ms. Schneider’s one of the strict ones. Tyler Howe had managed to gather a double handful, which he tried to stuff down the front of Savannah’s shirt when she went to give him a perky little nose-kiss. She giggled her head off, up and down the music scale like she does. Made me want to throw up.
“Happy V.D., Hamburger,” Nate Cowper said. Of course he was sitting with Tyler the Jerk. How can anyone like someone who likes someone like that?
“Get your feet off my chair,” I snapped.
“Whoa, somebody took the Burger to McDonald’s and got her an Unhappy Meal,” Nate sighed, shaking his head like a grownup. His hair’s only blond in the summer; now it was kind of dark gold.
“There’s no McDonald’s on Dalby, idiot,” was my lame reply. I hate that stupid Burger nickname. Tyler started it when he first moved here in 4th grade, and of course it stuck: Burgowski Burger, Hamburger, or just Burger for short. I sat down and turned my back.
But then Ms. Schneider started rattling through morning announcements and handing out our worksheets. The goat pen! I had forgotten we were starting the design today. Eighth graders were going to get a pair of goats, already pregnant (we hoped), to take care of and study and write about. One was being donated, and the other we had fundraised for, selling wrapping paper and cookie dough. But before they arrived, we had to build their pen, which meant figuring out how much wood to buy. Boom: math, science and language arts, all in one goaty package. I love my weird school.
Today, though, it found a way to get to me. Ms. Schneider put us in groups of three to work out our calculations of area, and I guess she thought she was doing me and Savannah a favor by putting us together. Either she hadn’t noticed us glaring at each other, or she had and thought this would fix it. Teachers can be tricksy. And she threw poor old Molly in with us as a buffer.
“So, length times width…that’s, like, fourteen times twenty-one, right?” Molly started her equation in her horrible handwriting. Savannah had slid her chair to the far end of our table, hanging her arms behind her so Tyler could draw on them.
“Nuh-uh, don’t forget, the part which attaches to the shed is, like, five feet shorter, right? So we have to do two different length times width thingies,” I explained.
Savannah examined her arm, where Tyler had drawn something that looked a lot like boobs. “I think, when the baby goats are born, we should name them Paris and Avril,” she announced to the ceiling.
“Why?” asked Molly.
“Sophistication, dahling,” Savannah said, batting her eyelashes. She’s been wearing a ton of mascara lately. “Our goats gonna bring some class to da house, y’all, knawmean?” Suddenly she was all ghetto.
“Since when do you talk that way, Savannah?” I said. “And those names aren’t sophisticated, they’re ridiculous.”
“Oh, yeah, you would know, right? ‘Cause you’re so much more sophisticated than the rest of us.”
“At least I don’t have boobs on my arm.”
“What, this?” Savannah extended her arm like an ice skater. “FYI, this is a picture of the tattoo Ty’s gonna get. I would tell you where, but I’m not sure you’re ready to hear that.”
“Wow, you sure are sophisticated all right,” I snarked. Behind us, Tyler and Nate were snorting, enjoying the show.
I reminded myself: she’s been jealous ever since I got to live on the mainland last year. Even though I kept telling her how horrible McClenton was. Jealous, that’s all. Then she tilted her head back so her hair was practically in Tyler’s lap, closed her eyes and ignored me, and I wanted to slap her sophisticated face.
“Hey, you guys. Are we gonna do this problem?” Molly asked plaintively.
“Yeah,” I said, turning my back on Savannah. “What do we got so far?”
“Um…two hundred and ninety-four?” Molly looked up hopefully as Ms. Schneider breezed over.
“How you doing, girls? Let’s see how you’re working it.”
Suddenly Savannah tossed her hair and leaned back to our table. “No, look, Molly, here’s what you do,” she said, like she was the teacher. She began zipping Molly through the problem, Molly nodding with grateful understanding. Not me. I was too busy feeling pissed. Ms. Schneider caught my eye, gave me a little half-smile and moved on to the boys behind us.
Some BFF. I started doodling cubes on my scratch paper, nice dark ones, while Molly and Savannah became the first in the class to summon Ms. Schneider and tell her exactly how much wood to buy. Ms. Schneider was in the middle of praising their Teamwork when someone kicked my chair.
I turned around, ready to throw my pencil at Tyler, and saw Nate’s face…or rather, mine, which I guess he thought he was imitating. I do not pout my lip out when I’m mad, but that’s what Nate was doing, and I had to clench my jaw to keep from smiling. Just because it looked so stupid.
“Mm, what’s that smell?” his lips whispered. “Burger got burned.”
Two parts of me felt suddenly warm. My face, duh, because someone else noticing is what really burns, right? The other warm part was more like my stomach. Something about the shape of Nate’s lips when they made the word “burger”…
“Shut up, Cow-pie,” I whispered back, clenching away.
He leaned across his table, looking up at me through his eyelashes. They’re super-long, and I bet he knows it. “Here,” he said, and stuck something down the back of my sweatshirt.
I scrabbled my fingers, trying to pull whatever-it-was from behind my bra strap. Feels like…a piece of paper…and…My stomach glowed. It’s one of those foil-wrapped hearts…from Nate!
It was. Taped onto the back of some red construction paper. Ohjeezohjeez. Totally first-gradey, but totally adorable. Is this really happening? Nate Cowper? I swept it into my lap so no one else would see.
Another kick to my chair. I leaned my chin in my hand before turning around so Nate wouldn’t see how red I was.
Good thing. ‘Cause I got even redder when he hissed at me, “Don’t give it to her till lunch, okay?”
And that’s when I pulled the valentine out of my lap, turned it over and saw the sticky-note which said: “Give to Savannah,’k?”
Maybe everyone wasn’t looking at me, but it felt like they were. I snatched the thing back into my lap, but not before I caught Savannah’s eye. She didn’t need me to pass on that valentine. She already knew. And my BFF looked sorry for me.
My stomach wasn’t warm anymore, it was all squinched up in a lump of humiliation. I walked as slowly as I could to Language Arts, studying the floor tiles.