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Authors: Abby Cooper

Sticks & Stones (6 page)

BOOK: Sticks & Stones
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“Yeah, hi!” Olivia scooted over a little to make room. She motioned toward the space next to her.

“Thanks.” I sat down, and she smiled at me. “So … you like eating lunch in the bathroom?”

She laughed. “Yeah, sometimes. I haven't been doing it much, but I have to take quiet when I can get it. My house is always crazy.”

“Oh yeah! You have a bunch of brothers and sisters, right?”

“Yeah! Do you have any?”

“Nope. If you ever get sick of yours, I'll borrow them.”

Olivia laughed.

“How old are they?” I asked.

“Well…” She scratched her chin and laughed again. “I should know this. Okay, so Emmanuel is sixteen, and Vera is fourteen, and I'm eleven. Then Philip is eight, Farrah is five, and Matthew is two.”

“Do you all get along?”

“Yeah … we don't have much choice. Farrah has brittle-bone disease, so we all take care of her together. It's the mild kind, but still. I think we all feel kinda dumb about fighting when we think about what she has to deal with.”

“Wow.” Everything Olivia said made me want to be her friend even more. She really cared about people. And her sister—it might make me a little selfish, but the first thing I thought was that if Olivia was so kind to her sister, maybe she'd be kind to me, too, if she knew about my CAV.

But I couldn't bring myself to tell her. The second I considered it, my throat dried up so much that I couldn't say
. So instead of talking, I smiled and opened up my book and my lunch. I grabbed my string cheese—courtesy of Nice Andy for the fifth day in a row (now his mom was buying extra for the middle school cheese-eaters)—and offered her a big chunk.

Olivia smiled and took it. Then she opened her book, too, and for the next twenty minutes we sat on our bench with our books, enjoying a little peace and quiet and cheese.




One of the good parts about being in middle school was that now I was allowed to go out by myself on the weekends as long as my homework was done and I promised to stay close. I could just decide,
Hey, I want to go for a walk,
and not have to wait around for Mom or Jeg or anyone to agree to go with me.

I didn't know where I was going when I started walking on Saturday morning. All I knew was that I was crunching in the leaves along the way, and the sun was out, and everything seemed perfect even though some things were a mess and I had lots of dumb, itchy words on my body to prove it. But I tried really hard not to let myself think about it—until I found myself at the big neighborhood field, right near the bleachers.

I looked around, like
How did I get here?
I didn't mean to go to the field. I didn't want to be at the field. I'd rather have been at home, locked in my room with a thousand bottles of the thickest, goopiest, most disgusting anti-itch cream Mom could find than be at the field. Yet there I was. There, my feet had automatically taken me. Traitors.

Last year, Jeg and I had gone to the field all the time because we wanted fresh air, and also because we wanted to spy on Kevin and Liam. Mostly because we wanted to spy on Kevin and Liam.

They were on the soccer team that practiced every Saturday morning. We would pack bags of candy (for energy) and skip down the street, giggling the whole way because we would always say the same thing at the same time and it was hilarious. Everything was hilarious when I was with my best friend, even the stuff that wasn't really all that funny.

When we'd get to the field, we'd run and hide behind the rusty bleachers on the sidelines. If we sat criss-cross-applesauce, we were at the perfect angle where we could see out but people couldn't see in. From that position, we watched practice after practice, commenting the whole time about how cute Kevin looked in his uniform (Jeg) and how nice and focused Liam was (me).

“Everyone over here,” a big voice boomed, snapping me out of my thoughts. People in blue jerseys poured in from all directions. I scrambled toward the bleachers and practically dove to my secret spot, getting a small grass stain on my jeans in the process. Whoops. Mom was not going to be too thrilled about that one.

“Morning! Let's run some drills,” the same voice shouted. “Liam, you're up!”

Liam! I poked my head out, but he was hard to see. The soccer team had grown—there had to be at least twenty people out there—and they were all dressed in the same royal-blue-and-white uniform. They kept moving—ducking, weaving, tossing, turning, hokeying, pokeying, whatever else soccer players do—and right as I thought I saw Liam, he started running down the field in a different direction. Well, fine. I shouldn't want to see Liam anyway. I
want to, as a matter of fact. He'd dumped me, and that was that. It was really too bad that he happened to still be cute and funny and weird in the coolest way ever. I think all that stuff should automatically get taken away from you when you dump someone.

The one problem with Spying Saturdays was that Jeg and I had had to fully commit. Since the bleachers were at the far end of the field, we had to get there before the team did and then we couldn't leave until after they left, or else we'd risk being seen in the big open space between the bleachers and the street that led to my house.

As I sat under the bleachers now, I realized that I was extremely unprepared for this. I didn't have candy, for one thing. Or comfy pants. Or a friend. Also, I discovered, I really needed to go to the bathroom.

There was one at the end of the field I had come from, the side near my house, but no way was that going to happen. I'd basically have to run right through the middle of the game. I couldn't always tell which player Liam was, but he would have no trouble picking out the girl who wasn't supposed to be there.

“Great kick, Liam! Now pass it to Kevin so he can shoot.” There was the coach's loud voice again.

I peered through the open space anxiously, hoping to somehow catch Liam's eye in the sea of soccer players. But what would be the point of that? His eye didn't want to see my eye, or else our eyes would still be going out, along with the rest of us. Him seeing me wouldn't magically remind him that he used to like me (and probably still could, if he tried hard enough).

I flapped my legs up and down in my criss-cross-applesauce position. Why did I have all that cocoa before I left for my walk? I should never, ever have two giant cups of cocoa—of anything, really—before I go on a walk. I had learned this lesson before. The tricky part was remembering not to be so dumb.

formed on my leg, and I couldn't help yelling out. That dumb word itched like crazy. I clasped my hands over my mouth.

Please don't let them have heard,
I silently begged.

To my relief, there was no coach's voice booming,
Let's all go investigate that strange noise we just heard from the bleachers! It sounded like a girl being attacked by her own leg!
There was only the sound of kicking.

What was I going to do? They hadn't heard my
, but they would definitely hear the sound of a girl peeing behind a bleacher. And that was something I'd never do anyway.

If Jeg were here, she would come up with some brilliant plan that only Jeg would think of. It would be so much fun to pull off that I would forget that the whole reason for having it was that I was going to explode any second.

A few drops of water leaked from my eyes, so I looked up to force the tears back where they came from. I missed Jeg. I really did. And I missed Liam, and that made me feel like dirt. I had a new boyfriend, so I shouldn't miss my old one! But Nice Andy would never make me feel how Liam did, no matter how much string cheese he gave me. Liam was just the right amount of nice. He was a little weird, too. He
it. And he liked me. But then he changed his mind.

It seemed kinda stupid to miss people I saw every day. I mean, they were
right there
. But they weren't really them anymore. Jeg wasn't the Jeg I grew up with, and Liam wasn't acting like the Liam I went out with. It was like aliens had invaded their bodies or something. They looked the same (well, aside from Jeg's boring new hair), but they were not the same people.

And then I had a scary thought:
What if they weren't really the ones who had changed? What if it was me? What if I had been the one driving them away?

Looking down at
on my leg, it didn't seem like such a crazy idea.

The Explorer Leader would
drive people away. So many people would want to be the Explorer Leader's friend that the Explorer Leader wouldn't know what to do with them all.

If I were Explorer Leader, maybe even Liam would add some nice words to my poster. Maybe he'd want to be my friend for real.
wasn't as good as
, but it was better than nothing.

Now a few more tears crept out of my eyes and ran down my cheeks as I remembered how great it was having Liam like me. I tried to make myself focus on the soccer game, focus on the possibility of being Explorer Leader, focus on
, but instead I just teared up more.
Get it together, idiot!

“EEK!” I yelped.
was like being attacked by a whole
of mosquitoes.

Stop calling yourself names!
I yelled at myself in my brain using my loudest, angriest imaginary voice.
This has to stop! This is not helping, you … you … wonderful person, you!

formed right away, but it didn't feel good for more than a second. Then it turned scratchy, kind of like it knew, somehow, that it was a lie.

Finally, I couldn't hold it anymore. There was no getting around it: I had to go to the bathroom. Now. There was no way I'd ever make it home in time.

I stood up and tried to wipe the tears away with my sleeve, but I couldn't get them all. I needed more sleeves. Or fewer tears.

“Bring it in for a huddle,” the coach yelled, and the players ran to the farthest corner of the field. This was my chance! I might have been an idiot who drove away best friends and boyfriends, but I was not going to be an idiot who drove away friends and boyfriends and also peed her pants.

I jumped out from behind the bleachers and practically flew across the field. I couldn't remember how long soccer huddles lasted, and I didn't really want to find out.

When I finally reached the bathroom, I grabbed the thick silver handle on the door and pushed with my whole body, but it didn't open. I pushed harder and harder. Nothing.

“Go, Sharks!” came a chorus of voices from behind me.

I pushed the door again and again and again. I rammed into it with my shoulder. I kicked it.

Please open,
I pleaded.
I will never come back here again, I promise. I will stop thinking about Liam. I will stop missing Jeg. I will deal with Mom and Dad and everybody else. I will just keep going, somehow, if this door opens right now.

But the dumb door still wouldn't open. I turned around, frantic. I didn't care who saw me freaking out. I needed a bathroom

“Hey, Elyse.”

I sucked in my breath, terrified to turn around. I knew that snarky voice.
Why, world, why?

“You, like, totes have to pull it. You're welcome.” Her mean giggle echoed in my mind over and over again.

Maybe if I ran into the bathroom really super fast—and stayed there forever—Snotty Ami would forget I was here at all. She'd think she just imagined it. It was worth a try.

I pulled open the door, rushed in, did my thing, and waited. First I couldn't get to the bathroom fast enough; now I might never be able to leave. Why hadn't I just stayed home?

I counted to a thousand (or something sort of close, I hoped) and opened the door a crack. The coast
clear. I opened the door a little more, then a little more, and then slowly crept out.

“Oh, hey.” Snotty Ami's voice made me jump. This time she faced me, like she had been hiding by the bathroom waiting for me to come out. Lindsey and Paige stood behind her—and so did Jeg. “Great idea to have us come here, Jeggie.” Snotty Ami was talking to Jeg, but she was still looking at me, like it was more important that I heard her than Jeg did.

My eyes dropped from her face to something shiny on Snotty Ami's neck. She was wearing a silver necklace with a super-funky charm on it—a peace sign. I glanced at the rest of the Loud Crowd. They were all wearing similar ones that would probably fit together like a puzzle. I swallowed, hard. It was
Best Friends necklace—mine and Jeg's—but now it was in four parts. It was different. Cooler. Better.

And it wasn't ours anymore.

Snotty Ami saw me looking at it, and she twisted her mouth into a smug kind of smile.

“Jeggie's parents made those especially for us. Now that their jewelry line has blown up like
and they're even more famous than famous, it's, y'know,
kinda a big deal

My brain felt like it was a balloon someone had just popped, and now it was empty. I had nothing. So I scurried away without a word, hurrying past the soccer guys kicking balls into the goal, past the stupid bathroom with the stupid door you have to stupidly pull and not push, past the bleachers, past everything. As I fled, my arms and legs practically exploded with bad words.

Stupid Liam! Stupid Jeg!
Stupid me!
I had never had bad words appear one after the next like this before those two messed everything up. They had not only ruined my life; they were also ruining my arms and legs. I hated them for it. At the same time, if one of them had wanted to hang out with me, I would have probably jumped at the chance. How weird was
? It just proved what I was already suspecting: the really messed-up one was me.

BOOK: Sticks & Stones
4.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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