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Authors: Cari Simmons

Best Frenemies

BOOK: Best Frenemies
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CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1
THE FIRST DAY

“And where exactly do you think you're going?” Alice's mom called out.

Alice tried to suppress a smile, her hand on the latch as she pretended to leave for school.

“The bus stop?” Alice said, all innocence, turning away from the side gate as her mother stood on the back stoop, fists on her hips in pretend sternness.

“Not so fast,” Mrs. Kinney said, and then she and her daughter grinned at each other. Alice's mom held up a silver camera dangling from her wrist. The two of them had played this little first-day-of-school game since Alice was in kindergarten, when she had begun to march off to the bus stop before learning that a) Kinneys always took photos on the first day of school and b) kindergartners don't walk to the bus stop. (Although freshly minted middle schoolers—which Alice was today—did!)

“Ready? Say cheese!” Mrs. Kinney said. Alice slumped her shoulders over, crossed her eyes, and stuck out her tongue, first-day-of-school zombie style.

“That pose doesn't really scream ‘honors student,'” Alice's dad said, stepping outside with his mug of coffee and his shirt cuffs unbuttoned. Alice smiled, rolled her eyes, stood up straight, and re-posed in a more traditional manner, shaking her long red hair so that it flowed over her shoulders. Her parents could be embarrassing, but sweet—they were so proud of her for getting into honors classes, but really, it wasn't that big a deal. It's not like Alice set out to get there. It just . . . happened. Alice heard the fake-shutter sound of the digital camera, but then her mom kept holding the camera up for a few extra moments after taking the picture.

“Everything okay?” Alice asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Mrs. Kinney said, and finally lowered the camera, emitting a tiny sniffle.

“Are you
crying
?” Alice asked in disbelief. “It's just school, Mom. I've done this before. School bus, pens, notebooks, teachers, remember?”

“I know,” Mrs. Kinney said, laughing and running the side of her thumb below her lower eyelashes to collect any mascara that may have run. “It's just . . .
five seconds ago you were off to kindergarten. Now . . . middle school.”


Honors
middle school,” her dad said proudly, just as Alice heard the side gate latch.
Ugh.
Couldn't Cassidy have come at any other moment?

“Yes,
honors
middle school,” Alice's best friend repeated teasingly, entering the Kinneys' backyard with her own mom behind her. Mr. and Mrs. Kinney beamed with pride, not realizing that there was the teensiest bit of tension between the two girls over this particular detail. Alice and Cassidy had been in the same class ever since the Turners had moved in across the street when the girls were five years old, but this year, while Alice had tested into honors, Cassidy . . . didn't. Alice knew Cassidy was supportive, but the whole thing still felt a little weird.

It wasn't that Cassidy wasn't smart: she had good grades and was funnier than Alice could ever hope to be. Alice just seemed to possess a little extra nerdiness when it came to school, and now, being separated from her best friend and being singled out in general for being “gifted” was her “reward.”

Alice would have been just fine sticking with regular classes, especially since the honors thing had been a source of awkwardness between the two of them over
the summer. While Alice said things like “I don't know how I'm going to make it without having you in my class! What if the other kids are mean? Or total dorks? Or worse,
totally
mean dorks
?” Cassidy would say things like “Oh, you're
smart
, you'll figure it out,” followed up by a hasty “I'm just kidding.”

Alice knew, though, that they could move past it with just a bit of time. Being in separate classes just had to become the new normal. Alice needed Cassidy on her side the same way she knew Cassidy needed her, because middle school? Seemed a little scary.

“Cass, get over here,” Alice said, yanking her friend over to pose in a first-day-of-school photo with her.

Cass patted the side of her head with her palm self-consciously. Over the summer she had made the very bold decision to cut off her shoulder-length braids and rock a short natural do. Her mom was thrilled.

“She said, ‘Oh, honey, you look like me from the eighties!' and I swear she would have started crying a little bit if I didn't tell her to stop,” Cass reported in her post-haircut debrief earlier that week. Of course, looking like your mom wasn't exactly at the top of the wish list of any self-respecting middle schooler.

However, with the haircut, Cass
did
look more
confident, more sophisticated. Alice knew for a fact that the new do was going to be a sensation, just like everything Cassidy did.
Everyone
wanted to be Cassidy's friend, boys and girls alike, but only Alice could count her as her best friend.

“I remember the first time you girls met.” Cassidy's mom started to reminisce for probably the third time that week. Getting misty about old times was one of Mrs. Turner's quirks that Alice adored, along with the never-ending supply of cinnamon-flavored Jolly Ranchers in her purse and the zoomy little white convertible she drove, with the license plate that read
HERS
.

Mr. Turner was nice and all, but if Alice was going to get a ride home with Cassidy, she always hoped Mrs. Turner would show up in that convertible.

“Cassidy just toddled right up to Alice, who was playing in the front yard the day we moved in, and demanded, ‘Let's be best friends,'” Mrs. Turner continued.

“Here she goes again,” said Cassidy, rolling her eyes. Alice pretended to take a nap on her shoulder.

“And Alice said, ‘Okay!'” Mrs. Kinney filled in. “‘Okay!' Just like that.”

“And you held hands and ran through the sprinkler
together. It was the most beautiful thing. And now look at you: best friends through all these years,” added Mrs. Turner.

“Stop, you're going to get me going again!” Mrs. Kinney said, flapping her hands in front of her face.

“Mom, can you
please
just take the picture?” Alice asked. She actually didn't mind the reminiscing, but she sensed an impatient twitch in the golden-brown shoulders she had her arm slung over. It was time to get a move on and take this plunge, together.

Together—but only sort of,
a glum voice in Alice's head said.

She couldn't help wondering whether Cassidy was, maybe, a little bit mad about her leaving the general track for honors. All summer long, Alice had tried to work up the courage to ask if she was okay about it. The last time she'd attempted to address it, she and Cass were picking their way across the beach near their house one late-summer evening. Lake Michigan was calmly lapping at their brightly painted toenails as the sun went down.

“So, with the honors class thing—” Alice ventured. (Okay, so she was also an honors-level awkward conversationalist.)

Cassidy cut her off. “It's fine!” she said in the same
bright-but-fake voice that Alice's mom used when she “wasn't mad” that Alice's dad hadn't put the laundry away. “We don't have to talk about it.”

Alice clammed up, choosing to listen to Cassidy's words, even if she had a hard time ignoring her tone.

Now Mrs. Kinney snapped the photo and peered at it on the screen. “Another keeper!” she pronounced, and Alice smiled, although she wasn't surprised. She and Cassidy had plotted their first-day-of-school outfits the week before, making sure that they'd complement each other but not clash (or, heaven forbid,
match
). Alice wore a summery navy-and-white striped dress with a white jean jacket. It was already almost eighty degrees (North Shore summers lasted almost as long as its winters), but the air-conditioning in the middle school, she had heard, could reach sub-arctic temperatures.

Cassidy, meanwhile, wore a bright red cardigan over a white T-shirt and black shorts with white polka dots on them. Alice would have looked like a little kid in them, but they showed off Cassidy's long, lean ballet-toned legs.

They agreed it would be okay if they both wore the gold sandals they had bought together earlier that summer, accented with fresh pedicures. Hey, even
if they wouldn't spend every single second of school together, at least when they did, they'd look awesome—best friends ready to take on a new adventure.

“I couldn't sleep last night,” Alice confessed, once they were on the bus. Cassidy turned towards her, eyes squinting from the sunlight reflecting off the sparkling lake. “But while I was tossing and turning, I came up with a stupendous plan!” Cassidy raised her eyebrows in amusement as Alice rummaged through her new backpack. It was oatmeal colored, with a design on the pocket that looked like a panda's head, with cute dark brown ears and everything. Alice relished the relative emptiness of the bag, when all she had rolling around in there were her new notebooks and school supplies and lip gloss; she had a feeling by the end of the day it would feel a lot heavier.

“Here it is!” Alice pulled out a purple notebook triumphantly. It was the perfect medium size, not so small that you couldn't write anything real in it, but just a
little
smaller than a regular school notebook (so a busy girl could find it just by feeling inside her locker or backpack).

“A notebook? Gee, you shouldn't have.” Cassidy grinned.

“No, see, this is how we're going to stay in touch,”
Alice said. “Since we can't be in class together, we can keep each other up-to-date on everything that happens. Mean teachers, cute guys, gym embarrassments—everything!”

“I love it!” said Cassidy. “But do you think we'll have time for it? I mean, I'll have ballet and you'll be busy making Albert Einstein look like a chump.”

“No, it'll be fun!” Alice said. “We don't have to write, like,
everything
down. Just fun little stories and jokes we hear and stuff. I'll give you my locker combination and you can give me yours, and we'll drop it off to each other between classes. It'll be like getting mail!”

Cassidy laughed. “Of course I'll do it. You do love your mail.”

When she was six, Alice had embarked upon a master plan for getting new pen pals. She intended to float helium balloons with her name and address and a request for a postcard attached to the balloons' strings. She had visions of letters from Russia, Ghana, Indonesia—until her mother gently pointed out that the balloons were more likely to get stuck in the neighborhood trees or fall into the lake and strangle a duck. It turned out the only thing Alice loved more than getting mail was not feeling like a duck killer.

Gradually the bus filled up with kids. Cassidy and
Alice excitedly greeted the friends they knew from Comiskey Elementary and subtly eyed the students who came from other schools. Some of the girls looked nice; some of the guys looked especially cute; one girl with long, flowing dark curls and a tiny rosebud mouth glared at the floor and stomped down the bus aisle as if she didn't want to be there. Like it or not, Cassidy and Alice would be in classes with
all
these new kids. Time would tell who would prove to be friend or foe.

“I feel like we already have a
lot
of material for the notebook,” Cassidy whispered with a sly grin once the year's cast of characters had assembled. Alice beamed and scribbled a quick kickoff note to Cassidy.

Maybe this will all be okay despite the fact that I'm being sent to nerd purgatory. Which should actually be called nerdatory. Portmanteau, right? Ugh, this is why I'm such a nerd in the first place! Happy first day of school . . . gulp!

BOOK: Best Frenemies
2.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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