Authors: Anna Humphrey
Tags: #Fiction - Middle Grade
Copyright Â© 2011 by Anna Humphrey
All rights reserved. Published by Disneyâ¢Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disneyâ¢Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
For Jamila, who leveled with me:
Anna, I love you, but you know
about frizzy hair,
and then, like always, was with me every step of the way.
Hello, my name is Margot Button. I'm almost thirteen and I'm a total social dork. I look wrong, act wrong, and say all thewrong things at all the wrong times.
No, scratch that. Remember, “Positive thoughts lead to positive feelings.”
Hello, my name is Margot Button. I'm almost thirteen and I'm a unique and talented individual with strong social skills, exceptionally good manners, and natural good looks.
I can't even
that with a straight face. How about this?
Hello, my name is Margot Button. I'm almost thirteen. I'm mostly a total social dork, but I aspire to greatness. And as for my looks, if I straighten my hair, don't stand too close to the mirror, and squint a little, I look almost like a younger, uglier version of Salma Hayek. Except she has an amazing figure (and I'm a twig). And she's Mexican American (and I'm part Indian). And her accent is so cool (and I sound like a regular Canadian). And guys go insane over her (and guysbarely notice me). But you know, other than that, we're twins.
That's better. Or what about this:
Hello, my name is Margot Button. I'm almost thirteen. And as for the rest, can you come back to me?
ID YOU KNOW THAT
there are literally hundreds of ways to start the new year off fresh? When I was in second grade, my teacher gave us an assignment about it. Everyone had to pick a country and show how they celebrated. Since we were seven, this involved a lot of misspelled sentences under lopsided pencil-crayon drawings of people marching in parades, stuffing their faces with food, and lighting off fireworks.
Because my dad (who I've never met) is Indian, I chose India as my country. My drawing is still tucked inside my scrapbook. It shows a bunch of brown-skinned people with satellite-dish-sized heads. They're holding candles while standing beside a doggish-looking cow that, for some reason, is wearing a Christmas wreath on its neck. It was supposed to symbolize Diwali, the festival of lights. Underneath, I wrote:
“In India there is Diwali where the lite ends the evil. They wear new cloths.”
At the time I thought that sounded like the most disappointing party on earthâalmost as bad as my grandma Betty's birthday, where we ate carrot cake and her main present was a cutlery organizerâbut that just goes to show what I know. Now that I'm going into seventh grade, I would kill for a New Year celebration that involves a wardrobe makeover, not to mention the banishing of evil. You've got to admit, it makes more sense than wearing cardboard hats and watching a giant disco ball drop on TV.
Still, if you want my personal opinion, the
New Year's Eveâthe one that crosses all races and cultures, uniting us equally in dread and anticipationâis in September. It smells like new sharpened pencils and sounds like the crunching of the first fall leaves. To keep from mixing it up with the hundreds of other New Year's Eve possibilities, from here on in, I will call it School Year's Eve (or SYE, because that makes it sound as important as it is).
On SYE, there aren't any fireworks, noisemakers, or wreath-wearing cows. And instead of going wild at some crazy midnight party, you stop celebrating altogether. You buy new gym shoes. You write your name very carefully on the front of fresh notebooks, swearing that this year, you'll keep your handwriting perfect all year long; and this year, you won't hit yourself in the face with a volleyball while trying to serve; and this year, you'll finally get higher than a C+ in math, and your crush will learn your name, and you'll dress so well that you'll be at the mall one day, minding your own business, when this lady wearing sunglasses will come up to you and say something like: “You! You are exactly what we've been looking for! Will you be our new teen model for Abercrombie & Fitch?” And then everyone will be so jealous they'll want to lick the ground you walk on.
In summary, you celebrate School Year's Eve by hoping desperately that this year, you'll find a way to be completely different from who you were last year. Or maybe that's just me.
Of course, this is my life we're talking about. I can hope and plan all I want, but it doesn't mean anything will go my way. Take the Friday before SYE, for example. The day it all began. It was supposed to be perfect. The last relaxing, lounge-around-with-your-best-friend time before a long school year. It could not have turned out worse.
Looking back, I should have known something was up the second I opened my eyes. The suspicious smell of pancakes was in the air, but I ignored it, heading straight to the bathroom, then back to my room, where I had important stuff to do.
My best friend, Erika-with-a-K, and I had big plans for the afternoon. We were going to watch
Charmed and Dazed
, our favorite soap opera, at 1:00 while eating lunch: salad (because we've both been trying to be more healthy) and nachos (because nachos are so good). After that we were going to go down the street to Java House and order mocha lattes. We hate coffee, but now that we're almost thirteen, we've decided to acquire a taste for it. Then we were planning to have a back-to-school outfit session, where first I'd try on all my outfits and she'd rate them on a scale of one to ten for:
- Hotness and/or cuteness
- Makes your butt look good-ness
- Looks cool and unique, but casual enough that nobody would guess you'd spent two hours picking it out with your best friend.
Then I'd do the same for her outfits. But first I needed to prepare. Because of “our current financial situation” (more about that later), my mom had used some of the “future fund” money my dad sends to take me shopping for the bare essentials of back-to-school stuffâtwo pairs of jeans, socks, underwear, and some Walmart pens and binders. Technically, that money from my dad is for my university education. It comes a few times a year, tucked in a little card filled with barely legible writing about whatever place he's in at the moment. (Last time he was working on a radish farm in California; next time he could be scaling the Rockies in search of rare peregrine falcons. It's hard to say.) My mom puts the money in a special bank account and we never touch it, so that tells you how tight things had gotten. It meant I was mostly going to have to create my School Year's Day outfit by working with the clothes I already hadâwhich wasn't going to be easy, trust me.
I sat back on my heels, pulling stuff out of my drawers and scattering it around until I was sitting elbow-deep in a nest of bad fashion decisions. There were last year's khaki cargo pants (What had I been thinking? That I was some kind of jungle explorer-slash-sixth grader?); a camisole with little flowers on it, which wasn't too bad except for this one subtle ketchup stain; a hooded sweatshirt with weirdly big pom-pom tassels; a Hello Kitty T-shirt (that would have been
cuteâ¦if I was still eight years old); and a hand-me-down argyle vest with the tags still on it from one of my mom's client's daughters (
obviously knew it wasn't cool enough to wear, so why was she inflicting it on me?).
I was just considering the pros and cons of a blue velour leopard-print hoodie from the same hand-me-down bag (Pro: velour was
in this season. Con: blue leopard print!! Really?), when there was a knock at my door. “Margot?” My mom peeked in, not bothering to wait for an invitation.
She opened the door wider then, but didn't flinch at the mess. If anything, the new layer of clean clothes made my room look better, since it hid the piles of stuff underneath. “Oh, that's funky.” She nodded in approval, eyeing the blue leopard-print hoodie. I'm not trying to be mean, but this was coming from a woman who was wearing a purple peasant skirt and a belt covered in small silver bells. I dropped the sweatshirt into my “would not be caught dead in it” pile.
“Oh look, Margot.” She picked up a rainbow-colored woven Peruvian headband. She'd bought it for me once at a hippie festival where she was reading tarot cards, which is what she does for a living. “I was wondering where this went.” I used to wear that headband practically every day in fourth grade, until this girl Sarah said it smelled like hair grease and asked if I ever washed it. So, while it was pretty in its way, and might have been the kind of thing that a tarot card reader could get away with, I knew it wasn't going to cut it in seventh grade. I took it from my mom and threw it on top of the hoodie.
But before you go thinking I'm ashamed of my mom, or her clothes, or her job, let me say that I'm not really. Tarot Card Reader is
one of the more regular mom-type occupationsâlike accountant, lawyer, or kindergarten teacherâbut the whole thing is very sacred and serious to her, and I think it's pretty cool. The only part I don't like about it is that she refuses to do readings for anyone under eighteen, no matter how much they beg and plead and give her a million reasons why they
know the future. Which is dumb, because I happen to be very mature for my age.
I wrinkled my nose as Mom picked up a red silk scarf from the hand-me-down bag and tied it around her neck. Paired with the silver bells on her belt, it made her look like a psychic Christmas elf, but, using my advanced maturity, I managed to keep myself from pointing that out. My mom could be a little sensitive about my constructive criticisms of her fashion choices. And, really, as her hippie wear went, the clothes she had on weren't so bad.
Which should have been my second clue that something was terribly wrong. It was barely nine a.m. Shouldn't she still be wearing the baggy T-shirt and old maternity shorts she slept in?
“Ma-goooo!” Alice, one of my two-year-old triplet sisters came running down the hall, her arms flailing in random directions like small tree branches caught in the wind.
She barreled past my mom and launched herself into my lap. I hugged her, then hauled us both up from the depths of the clothes nest and swung her around until she squealed. “Fly me again!” she shouted the second I brought her down for a crash landing in the “possibly passable” pile.
“Did you make breakfast?” I asked Mom curiously, sniffing the pancakes in the air again as I picked the squealing Alice up off the floor by her wrists.
Especially since my triplet half sisters had been born, weekday breakfast had been a DIY meal at our house. It was made of three ingredients: cereal, milk, and a bowl. It wasn't like my mom had time to be whipping up low-fat smoothies seven days a week. Plus, it's never really been her style.
“I did. I thought it would be a nice change,” my mom answered as my sister and I spun again. “And, it's a big day, Margot. I want you to get off to a really good start.” Considering all the stuff she had on her plate, between her job and my sisters and our financial problems, I was more than a little surprised she'd remembered the important back-to-school outfit session, but I wasn't about to complain. “Come on, both of you. Pancakes are getting cold.”
In the kitchen, my grandma Betty had already strapped my other two sisters, Aleene and Alex, into their high chairs and had just finished cutting their buckwheat pancakes into tiny, choke-proof bites. She looked up and smiled when she saw me.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” she said, reaching into the drawer behind her and grabbing three toddler-sized forks without even looking. Technically, my grandma lives down the street in an apartment building, but she's always at our place taking a triplet to the potty or doing our dishes when she should probably be watching
or playing bingo.
“Hi, Grandma.” I sank down into a kitchen chair.
“What can I get you? Orange juice? Soy milk?” Grandma Betty lifted Alice into her high chair and turned to me.
I was just about to ask for orange juice when my mom, who had started scraping burned pancake batter off the bottom of the pan, cut me off. “You sit down, Mom,” she said. “Margot can help herself.”
Ever since my grandma Betty had gotten a little light-headed while mall walking a month ago, Mom and my stepfather, Bald Boring Bryan, had been on this campaign to get her to take it easy. Still, even though it was true that I didn't need her to serve me, I couldn't help feeling jealous. Sometimes I wished I could get a fraction of the attention the triplets did. They didn't even have to cut their own food, or wipe their own butts. Plus, since the second they were born they've been turning heads wherever we go, with their wispy blond hair and blueberry eyes. Even a trip to the grocery store is guaranteed to bring on a chorus of strangers going, “Oooooh, aren't they precious,” or “Look at the way they're all waving”âlike that's an especially brilliant skill. I mean, not to state the obvious but, hello, I can do it too.
It also doesn't help that they're the only identical triplets in our city. The day after they were born, there was even a story on the front page of the local paper. “Darling Family Gets Three Times the Joy.” The picture shows my mom, my stepfather, and the triplets crowded onto a hospital bed. But even though the reporter mentioned me in paragraph four, nobody thought to take my picture or interview me. It's too bad, really, because I think that even then I could have offered a unique perspective on the suckier side of being a sibling of multiple half sisters. For one thing, your entire life gets blown apart and put back together in a way you never asked for.
“Don't fuss over me, Catherine,” Grandma Betty scolded my mom. “I like to take care of my Margot. Now, sweetheart, soy milk or orange juice?”
“Orange juice,” I answered. “Please.” My mom scrubbed at the frying pan a little harder in frustration, but if Grandma noticed, she just ignored it.
“Good choice. You need your vitamins. It sounds like you've got a busy day ahead.” Mom had even told Grandma about my back-to-school outfit-picking session? Now that
“I guess,” I answered. I walked my fingers across Alex's high chair toward her plate, where I snatched a pancake bite, popping it into my mouth and chewing noisily. “Um-nom-nomnom-nom.” All three of them laughed so hard you'd think I was a professional stand-up off the Comedy Network.
“Actually,” Mom said, turning toward my grandma, with the spatula still in hand, “I haven't told Margot why this morning is so important. Margot, I have something planned for you.”
I swallowed hard. If my best friend Erika-with-a-K's mother said she'd planned something for her, you'd know it was a manicure at the spa, or tickets to an expensive musical. But my mom's surprises were usually things like a new twelve-pack of one-hundred-percent cotton granny-style underpants, or a day of art appreciation at the gallery on a free Friday with the screaming triplets.
I waited for it, hoping against reason that maybe she'd planned something nice to thank me for babysitting all summer. Maybe we were going to a movie, just the two of us. Or shopping for some brand-name back-to-school clothes. Erika-with-a-K had just gotten a new pair of Parasuco jeans with tiny rhinestones on the pockets, and I would have sold my soul to get the same pair. I should have known better, though. My stepfather, Bald Boring Bryan, had been out of work for ages before finally landing a contract for a series of TV commercials the month before. We were still catching up on overdue bills, and Parasuco jeans probably weren't our first priority.