Keep It Real (From the Files of Madison Finn, 19) (10 page)

BOOK: Keep It Real (From the Files of Madison Finn, 19)
13.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Madison was looking forward to seeing Hart, of course.

The weather hadn’t improved much since the day before. It was still raining off and on. The wipers on the Gillespie car made a terrible squeak. Madison sat back in her seat and watched the rain beat against the windows. She was glad that her dad had let her spend the evening with Fiona instead of with him—and that her mom had allowed her to join everyone at Egg’s house. Hanging with friends was putting Madison in a better mood even if it was raining outside.

For some reason, Madison hadn’t thought much about Ivy or Mrs. Daly since the previous day, but now that she sat in a car filled with her classmates, she began to worry again. She wondered what had kept Ivy out of school on Friday. The temptation was great to share what she’d learned with the rest of the group, but Madison kept her lips zipped. Mom had made Madison promise not to tell anyone, even the BFFs.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Madison told Aimee as they drove along. “Usually you’re so busy on Saturdays with dance and all that.”

“I’m glad you’re here, too,” Chet said from the back of the car. “Or else we’d have no ride.”

Everyone laughed, even Mrs. Gillespie.

“I just wish there was something I could do for my teacher,” Aimee said. “It’s hard seeing her sick like this.”

Madison wondered how it felt for Ivy to watch her mom get sick. What would everyone in the car have said if
had known the truth about Ivy’s situation? Would it make a difference in the way they treated Ivy?

Would it make a difference to Madison?

The car pulled up to Egg’s house a little after noon.

“Welcome to my world,” Egg said as he opened the door. He made a weird noise.

Fiona leaned over to Madison. “Walter’s cute, and I like him a lot, but he can be really,
embarrassing sometimes,” she admitted.

Madison smiled back at her. “He can be really embarrassing most of the time,” she said with a loud laugh. “But don’t forget, he’s just being Egg.”

Señora Diaz strolled out of the kitchen wearing an apron with the words
on it.

“Buenos Días!”
Señora Diaz said. “How are you all doing?”

Almost everyone in the room had Señora Diaz as their Spanish teacher at FHJH, so stepping inside her home always felt a little awkward at first. She put everybody at their ease almost immediately, however. Gradually it began to feel like being around a friend—or at least a cool mom—and not a teacher who would grade you or quiz you. The room was packed with smiling faces that included those of Madison, Aimee, Fiona, Chet, and Dan. They moved into the kitchen to begin the tacos.

“Where’s Hart?” Madison asked.

“Hart’s on his way, with Drew,” Egg said. “They had some family thing last night.”

“Did you hear what happened to Ivy?” Dan asked.

“No, what?” Madison replied.

“I heard that she got her belly button pierced.”

“I bet it looks hot,” Chet said.

“Come on!” Aimee said.

“You have a one-track mind, Chet,” Fiona grumbled.

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Hart and Drew. Everyone said their hellos. The topic of discussion stayed the same.

“I think Ivy is going to be kicked out of school,” Aimee said. “What do you think?”

“I think that’s an old rumor from, like, a million years ago,” Madison said.

“Yes, but she’s been absent. Does anyone know why?” Drew asked.

Madison almost blurted out, “I do!”

But she didn’t.

Everyone piled the tomatoes and cheese and even the hot jalapeños onto their tacos. Madison poured on extra salsa. She loved Señora Diaz’s homemade creations. When everyone was set, they moved in to the family room. They turned on the TV, and people spread out on the floor to eat.

Hart sat next to Madison. He gave her one of his jalapeños, and she thought her mouth had caught fire. But then he jumped right up and got Madison a glass of water, too. Madison could see Fiona across the room, sitting next to Egg, rolling her eyes at Madison as she always did.

The rain went
on the roof of the Diaz house. Egg dragged everyone over to the computer to view his updated blog page for Disaster Zone, but the computer froze. Drew took out a baseball-card collection that his grandfather had given to him recently. He always had something new to show off. He was one of the richest kids in Far Hills, and certainly in their crowd. His grandfather had Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron cards
an original Honus Wagner card, some of the most valuable ones available.

Conversation ebbed and flowed. The topics ranged from school (too much homework lately) to teachers (out of earshot of Señora Diaz, of course). Then somebody mentioned Ivy again, and Aimee laughed and repeated the gossip that they’d heard earlier that week, about the sophomore at Dunn Manor and Ivy’s getting suspended.

Madison brooded.

She wanted to speak up and tell her friends that they had the wrong information, but she didn’t.

How could she tell them the real deal when she didn’t even know all the facts herself?

“It’s working!” Egg yelled out as the Disaster Zone game screen finally reappeared. Everyone gathered around the computer to play.

“Who wants to team up?” Drew asked aloud.

Aimee grabbed Drew’s arm. “I’m your partner,” she declared. He nodded.

Chet and Fiona decided to pair up (instead of arguing, as they usually did). Egg and Dan were partners, too.

“That leaves Maddie and Hart,” Aimee said with a smirk.

Hart smiled. “No prob,” he went to high-five Madison but grabbed her hand instead.

Madison thought she was going to faint when he did that. Never in a zillion years could Madison have imagined that she would enjoy playing Disaster Zone that much.

Chapter 10

Harriet the Spy.

And it wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

All week long she had been stealing glimpses of journal pages and listening to conversations from inside bathroom stalls. After all of her trying and prying, she’d learned some of the surprising truth about Ivy.

That was bad enough.

Now it was Sunday, and she was poking around online, looking for more and better clues to the truth about Bigwheels, too. It had been almost the entire weekend, and Madison’s keypal still had not responded to Madison’s pointed questions about

Was Bigwheels avoiding Madison on purpose?

Finally, there was Mom—an entirely different mystery. Since Friday, Mom had worried aloud about what to wear for her big Sunday night meeting, and Madison couldn’t help getting suspicious. Madison was certain that any “meeting” on a Sunday had to qualify as a date, especially when Mom’s outfit was a main focus, and no matter how many times Mom insisted that the good impression she needed to make was for Budge Films.

“What should I wear?” Mom asked.

“What about that red dress you like so much? You haven’t worn that in a long time,” Madison said.

one?” Mom laughed. “No, that would give the
impression, honey bear. I’d better stick to navy.”

“But you look way prettier in the red one,” Madison said with a little smile. “Wear it with your sparkly earrings. The diamond ones from Great-gramma Peg. They’re good luck, aren’t they?”

“Maddie, looking pretty isn’t the goal here,” Mom insisted. “This is serious work. And I need to look serious.”

Madison wondered what kind of guy Mom must be seeing for dinner if she needed to look so serious. Was it a scientist? Or maybe an astronaut? Serious could be interesting. But serious could also be boring. What if the guy Mom was seeing was like Mr. Books? Not all librarians were boring, but he sure was.

In the midst of her dressing dilemma, Mom tossed Phin a treat. He danced around the room with delight. He hadn’t eaten any dog snaps all day, and after each one he did a little twirl and let out his quiet, happy growl. Phineas T. Finn’s stomach was a bottomless pit, at least when it came to Chow Bones, his favorite bacon-flavored snack.

Mom pulled on her nude hose and the navy dress with the buttons down the back. “Help me fasten these,” she said to Madison.

Madison pinched the fabric together and fastened the buttons as Mom had directed. Each button was a different shade of pearl, and the row of them glistened all the way down Mom’s back. In fact, everything about Mom, despite her “serious” pose, glistened a little bit just then. This was one of those moments when Madison saw just how beautiful her mother was.

“Will you be late tonight?” Madison asked as she did up the last button on the dress.

“Probably,” Mom said. “You know how these things can go. I hope you don’t mind staying with Dad and Stephanie—just in case I don’t get back before your bedtime.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Madison said, even though she cringed at the notion of bedtime. Madison hadn’t gone to bed much before eleven these past few months and she wasn’t about to start now.

“I’ve seen a lot of Dad this week,” Madison said. “I like seeing Dad. I mean, he
my dad…”

“Oh, Maddie.” Mom frowned. “I know I’ve been shuffling you off to your father’s place all week. But it’s all for a very good cause—believe me.”

“Yeah?” Madison said, chewing on a hangnail.

“Yeah,” Mom replied.

There was no good reason that Madison didn’t come right out at that exact moment and ask Mom whom she was having dinner with—and why. But she didn’t ask.

Then the doorbell rang.

“Good! Your father’s here!” Mom gasped. “I have to go put on my shoes. Get the door, okay?”

Madison watched Mom trip over her stocking feet to get to her pair of navy high heels sitting in the hallway. In the meantime, Dad rang the bell twice more. Phin scratched and panted at the front door. Madison could hear Dad’s voice loud and clear.

“Hold your horses, dog!” Dad chuckled. “I’m coming in.”

Phin recognized Dad’s voice and let out a howl.


Reaching the door, Madison quickly unbolted it.

“Phinnie, get down!” Dad cried.

He shook his leg to stop Phin from jumping up on him, but the dog wrapped his paws around Dad’s calf and wouldn’t let go. Dad staggered to the side and kissed Madison hello. He grabbed a duffel bag sitting on the floor in the hall.

“Got everything you need for the night, laptop included?”

Madison nodded and smiled. Dad understood Madison’s need to take her laptop everywhere. After all, he was the one who had first shown her how to use a computer. His business had him working on web projects all the time. He always downloaded cool applications onto Madison’s machine and gave her clever little tips on tweaking digital photos, formatting text, adding sound files and more.

Mom’s heels click-clacked on the floor as she appeared. “Jeffrey,” Mom said with a toss of her head. Her voice was sweeter than usual. “Thanks again for coming to our rescue.”

“Wow. You really do look great,” Dad said, his eyes fixing on her ankles and then traveling all the way up. Madison saw him stare the way he had used to, but she knew it didn’t really mean anything. No amount of wishing was going to reunite her parents. Madison had to keep telling herself that.

“Well, this is the big one,” Mom told Dad. “I appreciate your support.”

Dad extended his hand, and they shook but didn’t kiss on the cheek.
might have meant something.

“Good luck, Francine,” Dad said.

“Wait a minute. Are you guys speaking in code?” Madison blurted out. “‘Good luck’? ‘This is the big one’? What are you two really talking about?”

, dear,” Mom said.

“Good luck at the
,” Dad said in reply.

Madison wasn’t buying it. “Uh-huh,” she sighed, “whatever you say.” She hooked Phin’s leash onto his collar and walked him through the door. Dad followed right behind.

“Bye,” Madison said as she turned to blow Mom a kiss. “See you after school tomorrow?”

Mom winked. “You bet,” she said, catching the kiss in the air.

During the car ride to her dad’s apartment, Madison expected him to say something more about the way Mom was dressed or about the way he felt about her going on a big date. But strangely, he didn’t say another word about Mom. Instead, he asked Madison about her journaling assignments.

Madison had shown both Dad and Stephanie the composition notebook on Thursday. She’d also mentioned Ivy’s notebook—the one with the princess sticker. Dad knew Madison and Ivy’s troubled history. He’d been around for first grade, when they had sworn to be friends forever—and for fourth grade, when they had declared they’d be enemies forever.

But Dad wasn’t taking sides this time—at least, not Madison’s side.

“This journal assignment is not a competition, you know,” Dad said. “Your journal entries are yours. And Ivy’s are hers.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Madison asked defensively.

“Exactly what I said, Maddie. Some things are meant to be private…” Dad said. “Some secrets are not meant to be shared—until the person is ready to share them.”

“That’s exactly what Mom said,” Madison groaned.

“Well, she’s right.”

“I told you, Dad, I didn’t mean to look at Ivy’s journal. I just…peeked.”

“You should just forget what you saw. Ivy’s entitled to her ‘perfect life,’ Maddie, no matter how much you may dislike her for it,” Dad said.

“How can she be entitled to a perfect life when it’s not even perfect?” Madison asked. “No one’s life is perfect. She’s a total liar!”

“Look, Maddie,” Dad said, a little more sternly this time. “Is everything you write in your journal the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Don’t you ever write dreams or wishes? And don’t you think Ivy is allowed to do the same?”

Madison didn’t like being lectured, especially not on a subject like that. After all, Ivy was the enemy, right? And journals were
domain. She was the writer. She made the collages. She was the one who used more than anyone.

BOOK: Keep It Real (From the Files of Madison Finn, 19)
13.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

H2O by Belateche, Irving
The Rake's Rainbow by Allison Lane
Slay Belles by Nancy Martin
Blame It on the Cowboy by Delores Fossen
The Christmas Children by Irene Brand
Through the Fire by Donna Hill
Cowboy to the Rescue by Louise M. Gouge