Authors: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Frank Cottrell Boyce
For Joe, Chiara and Denny â
First American edition published in 2012 by Stoke Books,
an imprint of Barrington Stoke Ltd 18
Walker Street, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, EH3 7LP
Copyright Â© 2008 Frank Cottrell Boyce
Illustrations Â© Dylan Gibson
All rights reserved. International copyright secured. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means â electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise â without the prior written permission of Barrington Stoke Ltd, except for inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.
A catalog record for this book is available from
the US Library of Congress
Distributed in the United States and Canada by Lerner Publisher
Services, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
241 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401
Printed in China
How Not to Party
You won't believe this but I used to be a loser. Like one time it was my birthday and Mom said, “Let's have a party, George. Ask anyone you like.” And I couldn't get anyone to come. Not one person. I did ask Tiny Biggs, from the Warhammer Club at school, because he's a loser too. He said, “Will there be food?”
“Loads of food. Chicken wings. Pringles. Birthday cake.”
“So you'll come?”
“Social suicide, isn't it? If anyone found out I'd been to your house, I'd be a joke. No offense.”
Tiny won't sit with me at lunch time for the same reason. The only time he talks to me is during Warhammer Club. That's because there are only two people in the Warhammer Club â me and him. Tiny thinks that things are going to be different in the future. “Girls are obsessed with fashion,” he says, “And celebs. All we need is for Hilary Duff to say she likes Warhammer, and the next thing you know, we'll be fighting the women off.”
So far, Hilary Duff has not gotten into Warhammer, so it's still just the two of us.
There's a girl who gets the same bus as me called Danielle. I thought about asking her to my party too. I thought about it in detail in fact. I knew I wouldn't be able to ask her just like that. I haven't spoken to a girl since fifth grade, except in self defense. But I did work out a plan. If I dropped my bag just as I was getting on the bus, she might spot the birthday card that I'd carefully left sticking out of the side pocket and she might say, “Oh. Is it your birthday? Are you having a party or anything?”
And then I'd say, “My mom's gonna cook a big meal â chicken wings, birthday cake, stuff like that.”
And she'd say, “Stop, stop. You're making me hungry.”
And I'd say, “Come and get some if you like. There'll be plenty to spare.”
And she'd say, “Great!” and come home with me. And we'd all live happily ever after.
I wrote the whole thing down on a piece of paper and learned it off by heart, so I'd be ready.
And it nearly worked, too. The bus did come. I did drop the bag. But then Danielle didn't look down and see the card. She just stepped over the bag, and got on the bus. That slowed me down when I was picking things up, so by the time I stood up, the bus was moving off with her on board and I got left at the bus stop.
So my birthday dinner was just me and Mom and Dad and Grandpa. Mom said, “Well this is cozy.”
“It's great,” said Grandpa. “Can we do the birthday cake now?”
Dad said, “We haven't even had the chicken wings yet!”
“I know,” said Grandpa, “But I've got to go in a minute. I'm having my hair cut.”
Even my own Grandpa didn't want to have dinner with me on my birthday. Mom lit the candles. Grandpa said, “Do you remember Patrick's birthday and you said he could have five friends and fifty turned up!?”
Patrick is my big brother. He's at college. He's very popular. And smart. And good at soccer. And drawing. And piano.
“And then when it was time for the cake, he took a napkin, put it in front of the cake, blew and then ... the whole cake vanished!”
He's also good at magic tricks.
“How did he do that!?” asked Grandpa.
And he's good at math. And fixing things. And talking to people. I don't know how he does it. Any of it. I don't know how he gets good grades, scores goals, makes friends. These things are all as weird as vanishing cakes to me.
“I got you a present,” said Grandpa, passing me a little package. “Go on, open it. My haircut's not going to wait forever.”
I opened it. I'd been hinting like crazy for some extra Warhammer figures so it was a big surprise to find that the package contained a bottle of aftershave with a pair of “free designer” cuff-links stuck to the lid. Grandpa said, “I hope you like it. Got to go.” And went.
“Nice cuff-links,” said Dad, “Just what every boy needs.”
The aftershave was called “Desirable”.
Mom said, “I bought him that aftershave when I was a little girl.”
“And they're still making it? It must be good then. It must be a classic,” said Dad.
“I don't mean I bought him that brand. I mean I bought him that bottle. Look on the back.”
On the back was a sticker of a man with big hair. Under that it said, “This aftershave best before end of: August 1982.”
Mom said, “Give it to me. I'll put it in the recycling.”
I said, “No. Don't. Maybe it's like wine or something. Maybe the longer you leave it, the better it gets.”
“I wouldn't risk it if I were you,” said Dad. “Here's our present to you.”
And they gave me the exact Warhammer figures that I'd always wanted.
How to Wear Aftershave
When I woke up the next morning, the sun was shining on the line of Warhammer goblins I'd arranged on the windowsill, and on the bottle of aftershave which I'd left next to them. The aftershave threw lemon splashes of sunlight all over the room. I took the bottle and waggled it around for a while, making the lemon splashes dash around the walls. I was pretending it was some kind of wizard torch thing. I picked off the designer cuff-links. Then I tried to open the bottle. The stopper wouldn't budge at first. I had to grip it with the edge of a blanket and twist it.
Then suddenly it came free. The second the lid was off, Mrs. Doyle's dog started barking. There was a fluttery racket in the garden as all the birds in the trees seemed to take off at once. Cats meowed. And Mom banged on my bedroom wall shouting, “What's going on in there?” An aftershave you could smell through walls! I thought I'd better not try it. So I stuck the lid back on and shoved the bottle under my bed. But a bit of the liquid had spilled on my fingers. I rubbed that into my cheeks. It stung like a really angry jelly fish.
When I got to school, Perfect Paula was hanging around the entrance with her friends, same as every morning. Every morning I have to walk past her while she amuses her crew by making comments about me, my clothes, and most of all my back pack (Mom makes me use this fluorescent yellow back pack for safety reasons). As I walked towards her, I could see her grinning as if she'd thought of something really bad. I put my head down and got ready to ignore her. Then suddenly her face changed. She sniffed the air, like a nervous dog, and then she said, “Hello, George. Nice to see you. Are you going to homeroom?”
It was 8.50. Where did she think I was going? Ballroom dancing? I said, “Yes.”
“Can I come with you? No. I know. Let's all go.”
And they all followed me in through the main doors, giggling and nudging each other. Paula said, “George, what are you doing after this?”
“George is doing Computers. Let's all do Computers.”
I said, “I think you'll find it's on the class schedule. You're doing Computers whether you want to or not.”
“Oh, I love the way he says things! Don't you love the way he says things â all snotty and sarcastic?”
They followed me into school.
It was a trap. I knew that. They were probably planning to pull me into the girls' bathroom and remove my eyebrows with a pair of tweezers. Or something. It had to be a trap.
But it was a nice trap.
Most days, when I walk around the hallways in our school, I try to stick as close to the walls as I can. I try to think myself invisible. Today I was not invisible. Today I was totally visible. I was walking in the middle of the hallway, surrounded by girls. I couldn't help enjoying it, even if I was worried about what they were planning. Maybe a fish thinks the bait tastes nice, even if it does have a hook in it.
Our homeroom teacher is Mrs. Dudman. In all the years I've been at the school she's only spoken to me once. She said, “Stop talking, George.” Today when I walked in, she looked at me, did that worried-dog type sniff thing that Paula had done, and said, “Hello George, you look nice today. Have you done something different to your hair?”
I've never done anything to my hair. Except wash it after swimming on Wednesdays and after Karate on Sundays. I said, “No,” But no one heard me. They were all discussing the niceness of my hair.
Tiny Biggs was amazed.
Things got even more weird in Computers. Mr. Fitton didn't do the worried dog sniff or make comments about my hair. He told us all to split into groups of three. There are 28 people in my class. Most days if we split into threes it means, nine groups of three and me on my own. Today, he'd just finished talking when Perfect Paula slid her chair in on one side of me and Danielle slid hers in on the other side. Jade came and stood too close to Danielle. “I always work with Paula,” she said.
“Yes she always works with me,” agreed Paula.
“I want to work with George,” said Danielle.
“Well, George doesn't want to work with you, do you, George? Tell her to get lost, George.”
I turned to Danielle. No way was I going to tell her to get lost. If I'd said anything it would have been, “Please don't get lost.” But when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. Danielle glared at me, got up and went and sat with Mr. Fitton. I tried to say, “No, wait, come back ...” but that didn't come out either.