Authors: Maria T. Lennon
Dedicated to all the Charlies out there and the people who love them
9:00 a.m. What twelve-year-old kid is forced to spend her last day of summer vacation
in her room?
Charlie C. Cooper, that's who.
Yep, this summer I'm pretty sure I've spent more time in my room than a prisoner does in his cell.
After the hour mark, I got off my bed. Quietly, I turned the door handle all the way and put one foot out of my room, just to get a sense of what kind of trouble I was in.
But Mom has the ears of a panther, a really mean, old panther. She heard the click before I could even breathe. “Get back in there.” She said it like she was right there when she was all the way downstairsâsee what I mean?
“But Mom.” I grabbed my hair and ripped. “Please, I beg of you, it's the last day of summer.”
“Read the book.” She said it without even thinking about it. I told you she was mean. I wanted to die. My life was so not fair.
Tell me, how long can a child be punished for something she did months ago?
“Close that door, Charlie.” Mom yelled from the bottom of the stairs.
Oh, but I smelled pumpkin bread that was gonna be gone by the time I broke out of here. “Child cruelty!” I shouted.
“Charlie C. Cooper!”
I slammed the door as fast as I could to avoid the dreaded stomp of her Birkenstock sandals. Talk about arrestable offensesâshe had so many pairs of them, her closet just gave me the creeps, all those Birkenstocks. What's wrong with a pair of Manolos or a splash of Louboutin?
“Three more hours, Charlie.” Dad sounded happy. Can you believe it? Probably because he was enjoying some of that bread I could smell but would never eat.
I was going to die in this room, I could feel it happening, like one of those nasty, hairy, old icemen with frozen beards and unibrows, buried under the pile of stinkin' books she forced me to read from eight until noon every day for the entire summer. Yep, while my little brother, Felix, and moody teenage sister, Penelope, with armpit hair you could braid, were out frolicking around our new digs at the Houdini Estate in the Hollywood Hills, I was locked in my room reading. And you know what? The whole reason we were even here was because of me. Yep, me. We were forced to move here because of something I did.
Truth is, I did something really bad. And I mean really, really bad. Bad enough to get expelled for. Bad enough to have to move cities for. Bad enough to have to read books the entire summer for.
, and I want to be super clear on this, I was the victim. And if you don't believe me, you will by the end of these confessions.
I was the one who'd been wronged. I was the one who'd been dumped, dropped, and practically left for dead when that new girl, Ashley Stronza, came to my school from stuck-up old London with her fancy accent and her off-the-rack Topshop wardrobe and stole my best friend in the world, Roxy.
So I had to get rid of Ashley. Send her back to England. That's all I was trying to do. I'd read about this kid who as a prank put laxatives in the lunch food at some school in Des Moines and got kicked out. Easy, right? And pretty dang harmless too. Plus we were in Malibu, where people pay big money to have this kinda stuff done to them every day.
Before you make any rash judgments about me, let me repeat:
Â Â Â Â Â Â 1. It was not my idea.
Â Â Â Â Â Â 2. Cleansing is healthy.
Â Â Â Â Â Â 3. The laxatives were organic.
Â Â Â Â Â Â 4. We lived in Malibu.
And it took months of dedication and hard work to collect dozens of laxatives from grown-ups' bathrooms. It was seriously gross.
See, I had to crush 'em all up, pour them into Ashley's super dumb Union Jack water bottle. Then I had to wait until all the kindergartners had eaten, which was majorly nerve-racking. See, they eat at 11:30, and I so did not need a whole bunch of sick kindergartners on my conscience. When the coast was clear, I snuck into the cafeteria, sprinkled the stuff all over the food. Then I left her bottle where they could find it and sat back in the sunlight to dream of a better life without Ashley in it.
But the world was against me, yet again.
See, it turned out they had a performance I didn't know about, so their lunchtime got bumped up and they were eating with the rest of us. When they came into the cafeteria, with their faces painted like dumb farm animals, ready to dive in, I nearly had a heart attack. Don't get me wrong, I'm not nice or anything. It's just that I had nothing against them, all right?
I tried to stop 'em. I screamed, yelled, but they wouldn't listen, being dumb little kids and all. They spooned it onto their plates and gobbled up all those laxatives. I couldn't watch it, thinking about what was about to transpire in their stomachs. Then the rest of the school came in, but it was too late. So I confessed and paid the price.
It wasn't pretty. The cops came. The school kicked me out, and I had to see a shrink all summer long. But the one cool thing out of all of this mess was that my dad found a job rebuilding the huge, the awesome Houdini mansion, as in home of Harry Houdini, the greatest magician who ever lived.
I went to the window, opened it. “I'll die reading. Just kill me now, why don't you?”
“Reading won't kill you, Charlie,” Mom called up from the kitchen.
“Oh, yes it will. Haven't you ever heard of the disease where the synapses in your brain explode due to concentrated eye movement, otherwise known as reading?”
For some reason she didn't sound too worried, so I added some medical facts. “Yeah, it's true. Blood pours into your eyes, so they get like big fishbowls with your pupils just swimming around. It was on TV, I swear.”
“You've got just a few hours to go,” repeated mean Mom.
“Or that thing where your head just explodes from that life-threatening eye pressure brought on by staring at those lines, those words, all those terrible words?” I was feeling sick at the thought of it. “It's getting blurry, Mom.”
“And after you finish your reading, I want to see your life plan.”
“Life plan?” Yikes. What was I, like fifty? Who plans, anyway? Why plan when everything changes?
She turned on the water to wash the dishes. In the background I could hear that spoiled lucky brat Felix watching cartoons. “A plan for how you'll be a productive part of this family, Charlie,” she called up. “No more talking, all right?”
I fell back on my bed and looked at the pile of books I'd read so far:
Love Thine Enemy, Love Thyself.
Can you believe that language? THINE? I mean, seriously? Yuck. That thing was written back in the days when older sisters enslaved their younger ones. When people put tar on wounds and bled you when you got the sniffles. I skimmed that book big-time.
Anger: It's Natural.
Better than natural. It's essential, like oxygen. Without anger, who would I be?
Embrace Your Inner Middle Child.
Written by my very own shrink, this book could end life on this planet, because most people would prefer killing themselves instead of turning another page. Myself included.
How Sugar Feeds into Anger.
My conclusion after spending two brain-numbing weeks on this: Thank God my anger had some decent food, right?
Alert: Do You Have a Middle Child Living in Your Home?
This was the final book in the series of punishments. I'd put it off because of the fact that it was more than five hundred pages. I didn't even look at it until this morning when they forced me to.
I picked it up with total disgust, cracked it open with dread, when what did I see?
I flipped the pages and was thrilled to see more and more pictures of this kid with a really mean and seriously creepy look on her face. On closer inspection I saw a sharp knife in her hands, which she was hiding behind her back. Wow, this kid was cool. Kinda like that weird girl in
with those freaky black teeth.
So I propped up my pillows, and faster than you could say “Charlie Cooper will be bigger than Steve Jobs,” I read ten pages just like that. I don't think I'd ever really read more than five pages without brain pain. But this, this was like reading a diary. My diary. This kid with the cute little blond ponytails was me.
The Middle Child, Me, Girl with Knife usually had an older sister who was “better” at just about everythingâexcept eating. Which is way true in my case. Penelope and Felix don't like to eat. How weird is that? Doesn't that just show you that they might not be human after all?
I got out my black reading glassesâlenses poked outâthat I got from the
movie I saw before my grounding began, and I got the strangest feeling
. I actually liked the book. For the first time since my reading sentence began and my mom made me read books about what makes a middle child tick, this book was the first one that seemed to be talking straight to me. It made me feel less like a freak, because when you have an older sister who's good at everything and you're, well, not, you have to act like you don't care. I was good at acting like I didn't care, but let me tell you a little secret: I did. I cared a lot.
At noon the warden (aka my mom) came and let me out for lunch. I ran down the stairs kissing each and every bloody haunted hologram portrait that hung along the staircase. I've come to think of them as my best friends, you know, seeing as how I have no friends.
There's Josie, who looked so pretty when you passed her on the left, but man, oh man, when you saw her from the right, she was headless and dripping blood. And Frank, her husband, who wore a tight white collar, like a boring banker, but then when you caught the hologram in the right light, bingo! His brains were splattered like raindrops. I gave him the biggest kiss of all. “Good afternoon, my peeps!” I announced at the bottom of the stairs to Penelope (reading) and Felix (playing with his thing-a-ling), and dived into the grilled cheese and the tomato soup Mom had made. “That was delicious.”
I jumped up, looked around. “Hey, where's Dad?” I had some serious exploring to do. It was the last day of summer and still Dad and I had not gotten any closer to finding Houdini's secret tunnels, lost since 1936. Legend had it that they held treasures and potentially lucrative secrets beyond imagination. I had to unlock them.
Mom put my dishes in the dishwasher, picked up her purse, and said, “You ready to go?”
“Go where?” I looked at her. Images of back-to-school shopping floated through my mind, maybe a little Johnny Rockets double-cheese burger and a movie at the Grove. The tunnels could wait. I zipped up my super sleek black leather boots and called over to Pen and Felix, who, unlike yours truly, were allowed to watch TV every day of the entire summer, “Come on, you guys, we're leaving!”
But Mom shook her head. “This is just for you, Charlie.”
Halt. Red alert. I stopped. It was never good to be singled out, trust me. “Just me?”
Mom picked up her keys. “Yes, just you, Charlie.”
Oh, crap. She took me by the arm, and we went out into the horrible sunlight. Did I mention I hate the sun?