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Authors: Abby Cooper

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BOOK: Sticks & Stones
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“Yes.” Dr. Patel laughed. “You got me there. But I'm afraid that's all I can share.”

“I understand,” Mom said. She turned to me and tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear. “Still want that snack?”

“Sure.” If I couldn't have a new CAVvy best friend right this second, a snack would have to do.

*   *   *

I didn't forget about her, though. When I got home, I ran straight to my laptop and went to my online profile. I searched for groups with “CAV” in the title, and when that didn't get any results, I typed in “cognadjivisibilitis,” and when that didn't work I typed in “words on body,” but all I got in my results were groups for people who really, really, really love tattoos. So that probably wasn't it.

There had to be a way to find this person, whoever she was.

But she was nowhere to be found. Either she was super old and didn't know how to use a computer, or she really didn't want anyone to find her.

And none of the other CAV people around the world wanted anyone to find them, either.

A worried thought flickered across my mind—maybe all of these people were ashamed. Maybe they all walked around in their different parts of the world wearing long sleeves and long pants, even if they lived in hot places like Hawaii.

The thought made me feel more connected to the strangers than ever.

But it mostly just made me feel sad.




On Monday, I decided to take a quick little peek at the Minnesota trip hallway, the one with all the posters. It didn't freak me out anymore; instead, it made me kind of excited. There was an energy there that you couldn't find in any other hallway of the school. Decorations were everywhere, and I could hear people buzzing with excitement in every direction I turned.

A few people I didn't know were gathered in front of a giant map of Minnesota plastered across the wall. Lots of landmarks were circled—Lake Superior, the Mall of America, Fort Snelling, a big zoo—everything anyone might ask about. There were photos next to the map, too. In one, a group of smiling kids stood in front of a log cabin with their arms around each other. Another one showed some girls on skis, waving their sticks in the air like champions. The third picture was a big group shot. Some guy in a furry hat was standing in front of a super-enthusiastic crowd. It looked like everyone was in the middle of clapping or cheering or both as the picture was being taken. Furry Hat Guy must be one of the past Explorer Leaders, I figured. He looked so happy.

Farther down from the pictures, there was a big piece of white construction paper mounted on the wall next to a couple of pens attached with thick tape.
the poster asked. A lot of people had already written on it.

I quickly grabbed one of the markers, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and added:

Being Explorer Leader!

I smiled to myself. Yeah, this trip would be fun. It would. Especially if I got the job.

*   *   *

At the end of the day, Mr. Todd made an announcement over the loudspeaker that the list had been posted in the main office. I'd never seen people want to go to the principal's office so bad. No one could get there fast enough. Of course, Snotty Ami got there first. I wasn't too far behind, but behind enough where I couldn't really see her. I could, however, hear her ear-breakingly loud squeal.

“I knew I'd be on the list,” Snotty Ami told all of us unfortunate people stuck behind her. “I mean, since I won the super-important comp and all. I wasn't expecting the other people, though. Good luck,” she snarled in my direction as I pushed my way forward. “You'll totes need it, dorkface.”

I winced as
sprang up on my shin.

“Don't worry, CAV girl,” she said, winking as she pushed by me. “Your secret's safe with me.”

I gulped as what she said sank in. Since the teachers hadn't threatened anyone about calling me names this year, and since Jeg and Liam weren't around to protect me anymore, what was to stop Snotty Ami—or anyone else—from calling me names? (Nothing would stop her, obviously. She had made that pretty clear.) And what would stop everyone from telling people from other elementary schools, like Olivia, that I had CAV?

Sure, Snotty Ami had said the secret was safe with her. But I trusted that about as much as I trusted that the tooth fairy was real.

But what had she meant by
Good luck
? It couldn't be that I—no, it couldn't. Unless …

As the crowd parted, I cautiously made my way up to the front with Nice Andy following behind.


Elyse Everett (8:00 a.m. Tuesday)

JaShawn Talcott (8:30 a.m. Tuesday)

Ami Kowalski (11:00 a.m. Wednesday)

Andy Garvin (11:30 a.m. Wednesday)

Hector Ramirez (1:30 p.m. Thursday)

Layla Levine (2:00 p.m. Thursday)

“Did you see?” Nice Andy said.

“Uh, yeah!” I smiled so big that my face hurt. Forget Snotty Ami. I had a real chance at this.

“Sorry I have to totally destroy you!” Nice Andy said.

“We'll see about that.” I glanced up at the clock. There wasn't much time between now and my interview, and I had major practicing to do. I said bye to Nice Andy and tore through the front office, propelled forward by
forming on my arms. I got an interview! Now I just had to make sure Mr. Todd chose me for the decision that




The next morning at 8:00 sharp, I knocked on Mr. Todd's door.

“Elyse, come on in.”

He smiled warmly while I tried to remember how to breathe. I followed him into his office and took a seat on his fluffy navy-blue couch. Principal Todd's personal motto was “If you're going to be blue, do it in style.” He used to be a guidance counselor before he became a principal. Before that, I think he was probably a really wimpy kid. Lucky for him, he had grown up to look a lot like a grizzly bear.

“So you're here to interview for Explorer Leader for the sixth-grade Minnesota trip. You did a great job in the competition, and your grades and attendance are impeccable, but it's important for us to discuss the position in person, too. Why do you think you would do a good job?”

I want to be in charge of something. I want everybody to always say nice things to me. I want arms and legs that feel light and happy instead of itchy and annoying.

I don't even want it, really.

I need it.

But I didn't say that. Instead, I said, “Um, well, I'm really organized. I like planning. I'm good with details.”

“I see. And do you have much experience being a leader? Or exploring?”

“Uh, I, er.” My face grew hot and sticky. “I babysit my neighbors sometimes, which is a lot like being a leader, because I have to lead the kids to, uh, not do dangerous stuff.” My hands were balled up, drenched in their own nasty hand sweat. What was this, an interview to become the president of the universe?

Mr. Todd glanced up from his notepad and looked me right in the eye. Holy high heels, he had eyeballs! That was a surprise considering he was such a furry guy. The eyeballs were on the smaller side, and the irises were a dark gray color I imagined all his mountains of hair would turn someday. Now if only I could find his nose.

“What would you do in an emergency out in the wilderness?”

“Ummmm,” I said intelligently.
Think, bozo!

sprang up near my elbow, and I yelped like a dog getting its tail stepped on. Itchy itchy itchy!
Don't scratch, don't scratch, don't scratch.

I wanted to scratch
bad. But then Mr. Todd would see and would think about CAV instead of how I'd be a good Explorer Leader. And I bet he'd feel bad for me and
would come back and the whole interview would just go from bad to worse.

So I really, really,
couldn't scratch.

Mr. Todd shot me a confused look. Every hair on his body looked at me like,
What's wrong with you?

“I was just demonstrating,” I said slowly, “how I would scream if there was an emergency out in the wilderness. So I could get help. Then I would probably call my mom.” I flashed him a winning smile. Yes! Totally saved that one.

“Well, Elyse, I have no doubt that you'd plan the details to a T, but we need someone who can also take charge,” Mr. Todd said hesitantly. “You know, someone who can grab the bull by the horns. Handle problems with a moment's notice. Take no prisoners. That kind of thing. Do you think you would be able to do that?”

My head bobbed up and down as I tried to stop the tears gathering at the sides of my eyes. “I can,” I said. “I can grab the prisoners and take the horns.” Wait, that wasn't how it went. Grab the horns and take the prisoners? Dumb Mr. Todd. Who talked like this, anyway, with all these metaphors and symbols and junk? Why couldn't he just say what he meant?

And why couldn't I?

“Thanks for coming in,” he said as he got up to open the door. “I'm going to take some time to go over my notes and to gather recommendations and thoughts from teachers before announcing who goes on to the next round. It may take a few weeks or so. Remember, you're guaranteed a spot on the committee no matter what happens. You'll still have a lot of responsibility in planning our trip if that's where you end up.”

I didn't want responsibility, though. Not really.

I wanted my face plastered on that question-mark poster in the hallway.

And I wanted the rest of that poster covered in compliments.

And now it didn't seem like any of that was going to happen.

“Thanks,” I muttered as I lowered my head and scurried out the door, down the hall, and straight to my seat in Ms. Sigafiss's class. My legs throbbed thanks to the new additions of
. I couldn't believe how I'd managed to go from excited to miserable in the course of twenty minutes. Or how, for a second, I thought I actually had a chance at getting the best job in the world, the job that was clearly meant for someone like Snotty Ami and not someone like me. I was dumb to think that the job would make me cool. Apparently, to be seriously considered, you had to be cool already.





I've made it to November! I'm trying really hard to size up the mystery-note-writer suspects, but I have no clue who it could be. Everyone seems innocent, but someone isn't. Maybe it's Olivia, trying to make friends with me in a sneaky way. But that doesn't make any sense, since she's so fun and bubbly and could be friends with anyone she wanted. She's the type of person who would just talk to me if she wanted to know me. Plus, the note writer knows I have CAV, and Olivia doesn't.

I hope.

(Does she know? Maybe you'll know by the time you read this. If you don't, you should just ask her already, okay?)

I went over to her house yesterday after school, which was super weird just because it was Olivia's house and not Jeg's. It was fun, though. Her house was so cool. There was stuff everywhere, but you could tell it was because a big, happy family lived there, not because they were just a bunch of slobs. Her living room was like a museum, with pictures and school projects and really cool colorful masks hanging all over the walls.

“My parents collect African art,” she said. “They think it keeps us connected to our heritage or something. I dunno. Parents, right?”

I smiled, still looking at the masks. They were unique. Part of the fun of going to someone's house for the first time is that you never know what new and interesting things you might see.

Maybe I'll start trying it some more, going to new people's houses. But also, more important, knowing new people.

And letting them know me.

Or maybe one is enough for now.

Olivia introduced me to her brothers and sisters (the ones who were home, anyway—she has so many!), and we ate cookies and had a dance party, with Farrah as the DJ. Olivia's room is pink, like mine, but she has pictures on the walls instead of posters. Pictures with her siblings, with her parents, a bazillion different friends from elementary school, from her camp, from everywhere.

Maybe I can be part of it someday. I hope so. (Maybe you're part of it by the time you read this! Are you?)

BOOK: Sticks & Stones
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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