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Authors: Abby Cooper

Sticks & Stones (17 page)

BOOK: Sticks & Stones
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“Are you okay?” Mom popped out of nowhere and stroked my arm. “I saw you wince. What did she call you? I am going to have a word with that girl's mother when we get back. Here, I brought the extra-strength kind.” She pulled a gigantic tube of something gross and embarrassing from her purse.

“Mom!” I jerked away, super aware of everyone looking at the Explorer Leader about to be gooped up by her mommy. Sitting by her on the bus for a few minutes was one thing, but this was not okay. “I'm fine. I'm used to it. I don't want the lotion.”

“There weren't any mistakes,” Mr. Todd told Snotty Ami. “Your roommate is your roommate. No changes. It is what it is. Don't be blue. And don't be so mean, either. I think you and I need to have a chat when we get back to school.”

Snotty Ami snottily sulked away. For once, I wished she had gotten what she wanted.

“Should we go?” Jeg crept up to me and pointed to the big brown cabin on our right.

“I guess.” I couldn't bring myself to look at her. Plus,
was driving me crazy, and all I could think about was getting into our room so I could sneakily unpeel some layers and scratch the bejeebers out of it.

Ms. Sigafiss finished unloading the bags, so we grabbed ours and walked together in silence. Jeg held the door open for me, and I went through without saying thank you for maybe the first time in my entire life. I was just not in a thank-you kind of mood.

The cabin was huge. It had a wide entryway, a giant living room when you first walked in, and rooms going every which way. We found the door with a big “Room 1” sign on it and went inside. It was a teeny space, like the size of my bedroom. There were skinny bunk beds along one wall and two dressers along the other. The whole room—the whole cabin, really—practically screamed,
If you forget to close the door, you'll get eaten by a bear. Have fun!
Looking around the room, I decided that it might not have been so fun on my own after all. In fact, it might have been the creepiest thing ever. But I was still more worried than relieved.

“I like it in here,” Jeg said. “It's cozy.”

“Yup.” I couldn't think of what else to say, so I pretended to be really interested in my suitcase. I unzipped it, thinking maybe I could show Jeg some of the nail polish I brought.

But that's not what was right on top, like it was supposed to be.

I stared for a second in complete disbelief.
Another one?
I was so surprised that I didn't even notice Jeg come up behind me.

“You okay?” She peeked over my shoulder. “OMG, that's not, like, another one of those creepy notes, is it? Like the one you got at the beginning of the year?” She nudged me. “You never told me what that note said.”

And I never will.

Although she wasn't acting totally snotty at the moment.

And it might be okay to tell someone else. She might think of something that Olivia and I hadn't. And I was kind of about to burst; it was just too weird that this was still going on.

I quickly read the note to myself, then turned around to face her. This was either a brilliant idea or a huge mistake.

“I've been getting them all year. They say nice things. Sometimes they tell me things I have to do.”

I held this one up so she could see it.

Have a great trip, Elyse! You've worked hard and deserve to enjoy every minute. Remember, someone is always going to have something bad to say. But can you remember the good you've done? The good you ARE?

“Olivia and I think it's Mr. Todd,” I said once she finished reading.

For once, Jeg was totally speechless. “Oh … em—” she started, but was interrupted when the door to our room flung open.

It was Ms. Sigafiss, looking like a bear in her super-long, dark winter coat. If only there were a way to make sure
stayed out of our cabin.

“First activity is outside in two minutes,” she growled.

Jeg and I looked at each other and smiled.

“Gee!” she whispered as we followed Ms. Sigafiss out the door.

Oh-em-gee was right.

Jeg and I had a secret for the first time in months.

And it felt really, really good.




Outside, everyone gathered around a tall silver flagpole. Except for dozens of small cabins scattered around, there were no buildings to be found—only open spaces, covered in fluffy white snow. If I had been less cranky, I probably would have liked it. It might have reminded me of a perfect winter wonderland like the ones you see in snow globes and in amazing movies like
Frosty the Snowman

“All right, people.” Mr. Todd faced the group. “Welcome to the sixth-grade adventure! We have a lot of fun challenges planned for you this weekend. I'll let our Explorer Leader come tell you about your first activity.”

Everyone cheered like crazy except for Snotty Ami. Her snotty face snarled like someone told her she could never go shopping ever again. A small smile tugged at my lips and my ankle started feeling like an ankle again instead of one giant mosquito bite. I rushed up to stand by Mr. Todd, energized by everyone's excitement. Even if no one really believed I could do this, here I was, doing this.

“Hi,” I said. “Um—”

“Speak up, sweetie!” Mom called in such a loud voice that probably all the animals in the woods could hear.

I shot her a look.
Really, Mom?

Now everyone was looking at me, waiting.

“Come on, Elyse!” Jeg started clapping again, so everyone else did, too.

Okay. I could do this.

“We're going on a scavenger hunt,” I said in a louder voice. “The camp ranger hid a bunch of clues all over the place. Working with a partner whose name you'll draw out of a hat, you have to follow your clues, and whoever gets back first wins. Oh, and”—I smiled—“you can only bring a walkie-talkie to communicate with the adults, a small snack, a compass, and a water bottle. That's it. No phones.”

Everyone groaned. I knew they'd hate that part.

“How are we supposed to know where we're going without a phone?” Snotty Ami whined. She had clearly not been paying attention in our meetings.

“Meet the compass,” Ms. Sigafiss said, dropping one in Ami's hand. “The original Google Maps.”

Snotty Ami pouted and I stifled a giggle. Who knew Ms. Sigafiss had a sense of humor?

Mr. Todd held out a blue baseball hat filled with slips of paper.

“Everyone's names are in here,” he said. “Good luck! Liam, why don't you come pick first?”

A bunch of guys cheered for Liam as he groaned softly. Jeg whispered something to him and they both glanced at me. She wasn't telling him about the blue notes, was she? I should've known there was no way Jeg could (or would) keep a secret for me anymore. He tried to pull away and go up to the hat, but she clutched his hand like he was going to be fed to an alligator when she let go. I would never hold Nice Andy's hand like that, even if he really
about to be alligator food.

Liam finally escaped and his arm dove into the hat. It was the same arm that had done all that fancy yoga on the bus, the same one that had once rested around my shoulder. The same arm attached to the hand I had never gotten to hold.

It's funny how someone can put his arm around you but never hold your hand. Holding hands seems like the most basic thing, but maybe it's actually arm-around-ing. Maybe I don't know anything about romance at all.

He pulled out a small slip of blue paper and stared at it for a second before saying anything out loud.

“Elyse,” he said in a depressed way that made me think maybe he really was going to be fed to an alligator, but that was confusing because I was pretty sure I hadn't arranged for any alligators to join us on this trip. Wait a second. Elyse? Uh-oh.

“Go!” Olivia pushed me forward and gave me an encouraging look.

“Good luck!” Mr. Todd handed me a small slip of blue paper that must have been our first clue.

“Shall we get this over with?” Liam approached me, little pieces of his hair flopping around in the wind. “The wilderness is waiting.”

“We shall,” I answered, opening the clue. Maybe I could just pretend he wasn't here. Then I wouldn't have to worry about liking him and hating him at the same time and the confusion that came along with that. Maybe I could still have fun. Somehow.

Follow the snow eight hundred paces

In the direction due west.

Turn right, look up.

Will you pass this test?

“I thought tests were just for school,” I said with a wobbly voice. I was starting to regret letting the teachers write the clues for the scavenger hunt. My armpits were soaking wet, even though there were like twenty-nine layers of clothes separating me from them. This was not the time to be nervous. And Liam was not the right person to be nervous around. He didn't even spare me a fake laugh.

“Let's go,” he said, giving me a look like
was the crazy person here.

We started walking away from the group, which was no easy task. The snow was up to our knees, and it made walking really difficult.

“Are we going the right way?” I asked.

Liam stared at the compass like he was waiting for it to do a trick. “Yup.”


I trudged on behind him. With his long legs, it was hard to tell if he was purposely walking ahead of me or if it just happened that way by accident. I jogged a little to catch up, but it wasn't easy. Even my jogging steps couldn't keep up with his regular steps.

“Slow down!” I panted.

He didn't.

“Liam! Hello! People are talking to you!”

“I want to get to the clue,” he muttered.

“And what do you think I want, exactly? To bake some pie?”

He snorted and picked up his pace. Snow came down, fast and furious. I caught a few flakes with my tongue, thinking it would be smart to keep hydrated, considering I was going to have to run a marathon to keep up with my partner.

“Seriously, can you slow down? Please? I'm supposed to be the one mad at you, here. But I stink at being mad, so you're safe.”

“I don't care if you're mad,” he said as he tied his thick maroon scarf a little tighter.

“Then what? What is your deal? Why are you being this way?”

“This is me,” he said. “Sorry if I bug you. Jeg doesn't seem to mind me too much. Thanks for that.”

I had no idea what that meant. Maybe I had heard him wrong. He was pretty far ahead of me, after all. I chased him the best I could. Moving was getting harder and harder as the snow was coming down faster and faster. Worse, there didn't seem to be any clues in sight.

Actually, there didn't seem to be
in sight.

“Are you sure you know where we're going?” I asked.

Then I silently replayed what he had said. It had definitely sounded like a thanks, but that didn't make any sense. I thought back to Jeg's party. He had thanked me then, too. Either he was way into politeness all of a sudden or something really weird was going on.

“Wait. Why did you thank me?”

“Because you made it happen.” He finally stopped moving, turned, and looked me right in the eyes. His normally pale face was a little pink, and his eyes were the same greenish brown as usual. If anything, they were brighter compared to the dull gray of the sky.

The sky got darker and darker as the snow continued to come down. The pretty flakes from before had turned to hard, angry chunks. I shivered in my twenty-nine layers. The weather was changing, and not for the better.

“What do you mean, I made it happen? What did I make happen?”

“You did what I said, didn't you?” he asked. “From the note?”

“What note?” The realization hit me like a snowball. I stopped dead in my tracks.

It wasn't possible.

The notes were from Mr. Todd, most likely. They were written on his favorite blue paper. He picked up the note I left as bait. He took off running down the hall. It
to be him. There was proof!

Unless—unless Liam had blue paper, too. Mr. Todd didn't really
the color blue, after all.

And Mr. Todd could have only picked up the bait because he's the kind of guy who picks up paper from the ground, like Olivia said. It
super weird that he would ask me to break up Jeg and Kevin. That whole thing kept giving my gut the funny feeling that something was off.

My whole body felt hollow, like someone had taken a vacuum and sucked all the life right out of me. It was like Liam was breaking up with me all over again.

“The note I wrote you.” He laughed, then turned and kept walking. “The one where I told you to break up Jeg and Kevin. And look at you now, Miss Explorer Leader. And look at me, going out with the hottest, coolest girl in school. I'm finally popular. We both got what we wanted. We both won.”

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. How could he do this?

“You dropped that note in the cafeteria?” I asked. “Why there? Why then?”

“I dunno.” He shrugged. “Had it in my pocket forever. You were close by and it seemed like a good chance to drop it.”

“But what about the others?” I asked.

“The other what?”

My stomach got all knotty as I remembered something I hadn't given much thought: the way the note about breaking up Jeg and Kevin looked. That was the only note that was on a Post-it instead of a piece of regular paper. That was the only note that was handwritten, not typed.

That note was different.

“The other notes. There were a lot of them.”

“Oh, right. Those. Yeah, those weren't me. I just saw one stuck to your locker, and I read it, and I got ideas.” He smiled like he was really proud of himself.

BOOK: Sticks & Stones
2.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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