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Authors: Gennifer Choldenko

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Family, #Marriage & Divorce, #Social Issues, #Adolescence

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

BOOK: If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period
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If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period
Gennifer Choldenko
 

Harcourt, Inc.
Orlando Austin New York
San Diego London

Copyright © 2007 by Gennifer Choldenko

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should
be submitted online at
www.harcourt.com/contact
or mailed to the
following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

www.HarcourtBooks.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Choldenko, Gennifer, 1957—
If a tree falls at lunch period/Gennifer Choldenko.
p. cm.
Summary: Kirsten and Walk, seventh-graders at an elite private school,
alternate telling how race, wealth, weight, and other issues shape their
relationships as they and other misfits stand up to a mean but influential
classmate, even as they are uncovering a long-kept secret about themselves.
[1. Family problems—Fiction. 2. Race relations—Fiction.
3. Overweight persons—Fiction. 4. Social classes—Fiction.
5. Schools—Fiction. 6. Popularity—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.C446265If 2007
[Fic]—dc22 2006028664
ISBN 978-0-15-205753-4

Text set in Goudy Old Style MT
Designed by April Ward

First edition
A C E G H F D B

Printed in the United States of America

This is a work of fiction. All the names, characters, places,
organizations, and events portrayed in this book are products of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously to lend a sense of realism to the story.

To my editor, Kathy Dawson, who reads between
the lines, between the letters, and even between
the dot on the
i
and the stroke itself
—G. C.

One
 
Kirsten

This is lame but I'm actually looking forward to school this year, because every day this summer was like crap: dog crap, cat crap—I even had a few elephant crap days. Trust me, it was bad.

For starters I hardly saw my best friend in the whole world, Rory. She was always in camp or on Maui.

They probably don't even have crap on Maui.

Besides Rory being gone all summer, my only other friend in the whole world, Nellie, moved away and my mom and dad fought all the time. They stopped seeing my little sister, Kippy, and me, and they definitely stopped hearing what we said. We even tried a little experiment on them. Kippy said there was a colony of worms living in the laundry hamper and my mom said: "Leave your muddy shoes outside." And I said Brad Pitt had invited me to a slumber party and my mom said: "You already had your snack."

It was funny for a while. Then it wasn't.

But summer is over. School is back. And all I can think about as my mom drives us up to the drop-off is how I really, really, really want to have a bunch of classes with Rory this year. Well, that's almost all I think of. I also consider my butt and how it will make its way out of our car. Nobody wants to see a gigantor butt coming out of a car first thing on a Monday morning, that much I know.

"Have a good day. Eat the lunch I packed. Don't buy junk my mom says when my feet hit the pavement.

"Kirsten!" She unrolls the side window and beckons with her hand. "Do you know that boy, that bla—African American kid?" Her head cranes toward a guy who just got out of a red sports car. Tall, nice-looking guy. Shaved head, handsome ... dresses like he's the governor's son.

I shrug. "Must be new."

The red car pulls out of the drop-off and my mom's head snaps to the front. She pounces on the accelerator and her car flies forward with the door open and the seat belt clanking the side. She swerves around a big SUV, guns it, then pounces on the brakes, coming to a squealing, screeching halt.

The stop sign.

Her hand rotates a million miles an hour, gesturing to this poor huddled pedestrian, but the pedestrian won't move. He's afraid. I can't blame the guy.... I'd be afraid, too.

When my mom sees the man is sticking, she shoots forward again like she's on the chase. She's hunting down the red car, going to drive right over it and staple it to the ground.

Oh, great: now she's getting weird in public, too.

When I turn to leave, the black kid is standing next to me. "That your mom?"

I nod, then giggle. God, I hate my giggle. You have to be size three and named Barbie for my giggle. Between my giggle and the extra forty pounds, I've got to be the coolest girl in the whole seventh grade.

"She hits my mom's car, gonna be trouble." He shakes his head. "You don't wanna mess with my mom and that car."

"I'm sorry." My face flames so hot I could fry eggs on my cheeks.

"That's a 350Z. We just got it. My mom's been shining it with her toothbrush. You should see her."

"It's nice." I bite my lip. "Very red."

"My mom drives it real careful. She has two speeds. One mile an hour"—he pauses—"and stopped."

I laugh—my real laugh this time.

"I thought the police were gonna pull us over for going so slow. Like, hey lady, get outta neutral." He shakes his head.

The warning bell rings. "We gotta move!" he says.

"You go. I'll never make it!"

"Come on, whatever your name is,
run,
" he shouts over his shoulder.

"My name is Kirsten," I call after him as he thunders ahead taking the stairs two at a time.

I try running, even though running makes my fat jiggle. Still, I want to keep up. This guy is nice to me even though my mother nearly creamed a guy in the crosswalk and chased down his mom's car.
My mother
...I swear. What was that about, anyway?

Two
 
Walk

C'mon!" Walk yells back to the big white girl Kirsta? Kristal? Whatever her name is. He races down the hall and kills the stairs. His feet are burning; doors, lockers, kids are flying by.

He knows where the class is because he and his momma, Sylvia, walked the schedule last week. He can't be late. Not on the first day.

The bell rings.

He's late.

Walk slides into an empty seat Matteo saved for him. Matteo is the only kid he knows here.

The girl is behind him breathing like somebody better dial 9-1-1.

The old guy up there with the belly and the long hair? Must be Balderis, the history teacher. The man's all red like a pimple—even his ears and his nose are red. He opens his mouth like he's going for the slaughter, then shuts it again, shakes his head, takes a deep breath, and starts over. "Your name is?"

Sweat pours down Walk's back. "Walker Jones."

"And yours?" Balderis looks at the girl.

"Kirsten McKenna."

"Mr. Jones," Balderis says, "would you and Ms. McKenna please see me at the back of the room. And the rest of you need to read chapter one of McDougal. I trust you all have brought your McDougal. I'll be giving a pop quiz at eight forty-five."

"What, is he
crazy?
This is the first day," a kid mutters.

"Just refuse to do it. If everyone does, then what'll he do?" another kid says.

Walk shoves past Matteo, who is already reading McDougal, scritchy-scritching the words all neon yellow. Matteo looks up. His smile spreads slowly across his face: he gets an extra five minutes to study—
the rat.

Walk would have been on time, too, if he hadn't stuck around to talk to Kirsten and watch her mom lay rubber on the drop-off.

"You weren't in your seat when the bell rang, Walker. Kirsten, you weren't even in the room." Bal-deris crosses his arms; he taps his foot. "But ... I'm going to call you both on time, seeing as how this is day number one and I need students to help me move my classroom to room 251 this Saturday. I will expect you both to be here at nine A.M.—or Monday you'll be marked tardy and sent to the office, should you be late or not. Am I making myself clear?"

Sylvia will destroy Walk if he messes up at this school. Crush him to itty-bitty bits. If this Balderis guy wants him here dressed like a reindeer with a red nose, he'll say uh-huh. "Yes," Walk says.

"You want us here on
Saturday?
" Kirsten sticks her chin out. "I have to ask my mom."

"By all means ask away. Just remember, you don't show up for any reason and Monday you'll march into the office for a pink slip, understand?"

"Yeah, okay," Kirsten mumbles.

"Nine o'clock." Balderis taps his hand with his pencil. "I expect you to be on time Saturday, too."

"Hey," Kirsten whispers on their way back to their desks. "You're gonna give up your Saturday for one measly pinky?"

"You better believe it, girl," Walk says.

"Attention please." Balderis raises his voice now. 'Anyone late to this class
for any reason
will be sent to the office for a trouble slip. Understood? In lieu of a pink slip Kirsten and Walker here have generously agreed to help me move our room on Saturday. That's available to you as recourse for a late slip,
this week only.
"

"We're moving?" asks a kid with so much hair, if it wasn't for his nose, you couldn't tell the back of his head from the front of his head.

"Someone puked in the heater vent," a girl in fatigues tells him.

"Someone puked in the heater vent, so we're
changing classrooms?
" Walk whispers to Matteo. "How many classrooms they have here, anyway? Couldn't they just clean the vent?"

"Yeah, Burrito Boy...," a hot blond girl tells Matteo, but Walk doesn't catch the rest of what she says. Whatever it was must have been bad, because Matteo's eyes go dead like he's climbed right out of his face.

"What?" Walk asks, but Matteo doesn't answer. His nostrils flare. He keeps his mouth closed.

After class Walk tries again. "What did that girl say to you?"

"What girl?"

"The blond sitting across from you."

"Nothing." Matteo zips up his organizer, with all the pencils pointing the same way.

"What's her name?"

"Brianna Hanna-Hines. Her dad made a billion bucks writing a book,
Women Are Toads. Men Are Toadstools.
"

"
Women Are Toads. Men Are Toadstools?
" Walk whispers.

"Uh-huh. And the auditorium is called the
Hanna-Hines
Performing Arts Building. Brianna
Hanna-Hines.
Starting to make sense to you?"

"Her parents are loaded. But what she say to you make you look so..."

"Make me look so what?" Matteo glares at Walk.

"Like..." Walk sucks in his breath. "Never mind, man. Never mind."

Three
 
Kirsten

Oh my god,
I can't believe it. I only have one measly little history class with Rory, plus I came in late and there weren't any seats near her.

"You could have saved me a seat," I mouth.

Rory's face scrunches up like she can't read my lips.

At least we have the same lunch. Of course, everyone in the whole seventh grade has the same lunch. Soon I'm going to be happy to have feet in my shoes and snot in my nose, too.

When the lunch bell rings, I head straight for where Rory and Nellie and I used to sit. But Rory isn't there. Where is she?

Half of lunch is over before I finally track her down standing in line to sign up for the talent show auditions. Wow, they're starting early this year. "Are you going to be rehearsing for the talent show
at lunch
" I ask.

"I dunno." She runs her fingers through her hair. "But know what I heard? They're going to have a real director and a makeup artist and a costume designer. I mean real famous people. You gotta sign up. You do."

BOOK: If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period
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