Read On the Back Burner Online

Authors: Diane Muldrow

On the Back Burner

Table of Contents
For Lauren Roth—D.M.
Text copyright @ 2003 by Diane Muldrow. Illustrations copyright © 2003 by Barbara Pollak. All rights reserved. Published by Grosset & Dunlap. a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. 345 Hudson Street. New York. NY 10014. GROSSET & DUNLAP is a trademark of Penguin Putnam Inc. Published simultaneously in Canada. S.A.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.
eISBN : 978-1-101-16071-8

Chapter 1
Stunned, Natasha Ross faced the blurry crowd of people who filled the Moores’ living room. This couldn’t be for her! Could it?
Molly and Amanda Moore came forward and hugged her. Happy birthday! Molly sang out in a loud voice, her high, brown ponytail swinging.
Molly’s identical twin, Amanda, squeezed Natasha’s shoulders. “Are you surprised?” she asked.
“Totally! Surprised is not the word. I’m shocked! How did you—What about—We’re not cooking tonight? Natasha had thought she was coming over to the Moore’s house for a last-minute cooking job for their business, Dish. But instead of finding the other members of Dish-Molly and Amanda Moore, Shawn Jordan, and Peichi Cheng—wearing aprons in the kitchen, they were standing in the living room in front of a table filled with food and presents. Purple and silver streamers hung from the ceiling, and there were little twinkle lights hanging in the windows. A bright flash from a camera caught Natasha’s eye, and she saw her parents standing in a corner with Mrs. Moore, taking pictures and beaming at her.
Peichi joined Natasha and the twins. “
not cooking! She giggled. ”This afternoon we got everything ready. We made all of your favorites-hummus and baba ghanouj, caramel popcorn, even deep-dish pizza with broccoli and pepperoni!”
angel food cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream!” exclaimed Amanda. “Believe me, it is
easy to find really yummy, fresh strawberries in Brooklyn in January!”
“Wow! Natasha said. “You guys are good!”
“We don’t miss much,” Shawn agreed. “Maybe we should open up a combination cooking and party-planning business! Dish Parties: We bring the food
the fun!”
“Forget it,” Molly said, laughing. “We’re busy enough as it is. We don’t need
to do.”
“That’s for sure,” Natasha agreed. They’d been
busy ever since starting Dish the previous summer. It all began when Amanda, Molly, and Shawn signed up to take cooking classes at Park Terrace Cookware. The girls were surprised to see Peichi and Natasha in the same class. They liked Peichi, even though they didn’t know her very well then, but Natasha was another story. At the time, Natasha was Molly, Amanda, and Shawn’s enemy, and it looked as though she might make the cooking class
unpleasant for them. However, the twins were determined not to let her ruin it for them. Their mom encouraged them to be nice to Natasha and see what happened, and it worked—Natasha started being nicer to them, too.
When their friend and classmate Justin McElroy’s kitchen was destroyed by a small electrical fire, the twins’ mom suggested that the girls help her cook some food for the McElroy family to help them through such a difficult time. The girls loved spending the entire day cooking and decided to start a cooking club called Dish. After Mrs. Moore saw what a great job they did cooking for the McElroys, she hired them to cook a weeks worth of meals while she was at a conference in California. From there, the girls decided to turn their club into a business, cooking tasty, healthy meals for families who were too busy to cook during the week. In Natasha’s opinion. Dish was the best thing that could have happened to her. Cooking with Amanda, Molly, Shawn, and Peichi was the most fun she’d ever had.
“Ready for one of your gifts?” Peichi asked Natasha. She pulled Natasha over to the couch. Mrs. Ross, still holding her camera, sat down in a chair across from the couch. It looked like she was planning to stay and take more pictures as Natasha opened her presents!
no, thought Natasha.
It will be sooo embarrassing if she stays and takes pictures!
Mr. Ross saw the look on his daughter’s face and came forward. “I guess that’s our cue, Natalie,” he said to Natasha’s mom. He turned to Natasha. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he said with a smile. “We’re heading out. We just wanted to see your face when the girls yelled ‘surprise!’ ” He gave Natasha a kiss. Natasha gave her dad a smile that said,
Thanks for understanding, Dad!,
then looked warily at her mom. Natasha was relieved to see that her mom was putting on her coat. The camera was safely stored away in its bag. Mrs. Ross looked like she wanted to stay a little longer, but instead she also kissed Natasha and said, “I packed your overnight bag. Have a wonderful time at your party! We’ll see you in the morning.”
“I’ll walk you to the door,” Mrs. Moore said, leaving the room with the Rosses.
“So how does it feel to be twelve?” Peichi asked Natasha. “It definitely sounds more
than eleven!”
“It feels
Natasha said with a big smile. “You guys, this is the coolest birthday ever,” she said. “Thank you so much.”
“Lets get to the presents!” said Amanda eagerly. Natasha sat on the couch with Amanda on one side and Molly on the other. Although they were identical twins with freckles, long brown hair, and bright green eyes, everyone could easily tell them apart. Molly’s high ponytail and casual clothes were her trademark look. Tonight Molly was wearing her favorite jeans and a forest-green sweater that made her bright green eyes look even greener than usual. Amanda, who was wearing a teal scoop-neck top with four thin silver necklaces, a straight black skirt, and the new boots she had gotten for Christmas, was much more fashion-conscious. She loved reading the latest fashion magazines and was always experimenting with different hairdos and outfits.
Shawn brought Natasha her first present. It was neatly wrapped in paper covered with sparkling stars, streaking comets, and planets. “Nice paper,” Natasha observed, tucking her chin-length blond hair behind her ears.
“It foretells what’s inside,” Peichi said mysteriously as she perched on the arm of the sofa.
Natasha lifted the package. “’s so heavy, it must be moon rocks! Or maybe an asteroid!”
“Close!” Shawn said.
“Close?” Natasha questioned, laughing. “How could that be close?”
“Our fortunes lie in the stars!” Peichi hinted. “You’ll see. Just open it already!” The girls were
beneath the paper was a thick hardcover book. Lifting it, Natasha read the title aloud.
“What’s Your Sign? A Cosmic Guide for Young Astrologers.

Her friends were all staring at her, smiling. “Cool, isn’t it?” Shawn said.

cool! Thanks,” Natasha said.
The doorbell rang and her four friends grinned. “How perfect is that!” Amanda exclaimed and then ran to get the door.
“Who else is coming?” Natasha asked, looking at her friends. But they just smiled mysteriously and said nothing.
Amanda returned quickly with a middle-aged woman whose thick, brown curls cascaded down the front of her purple peasant dress. Her arms were adorned with a row of bangle bracelets and she wore large silver hoop earrings. “Meet Sonia,” Amanda said, stretching her arm out dramatically to present the woman. “She’s a licensed astrologer—
a psychic! We saw her ad tacked to the bulletin board at Park Terrace Cookware.”
Sonia waved to them. “Hi, girls! Ready to unlock the secrets of your futures?”
Molly, Natasha. and Shawn exchanged anxious glances. Were they ready? They weren’t sure. Knowing the future might be a little scary.
“Yes, of course we are,” Amanda broke the silence. After all, she figured, they’d already paid Sonia to tell fortunes at this party. There was no sense wasting time. “Natasha should go first,” Amanda said, “since she’s the birthday girl.”
The girls followed Amanda over to an upholstered chair and side table that Amanda had decorated with shawls and velvety pillows. She had even hung beaded curtains to partition this part of the living room from the rest of the house. “You sit here, Sonia,” she said, indicating the big chair. Then she pulled over a straight back chair that she’d draped with a lace tablecloth. “And Natasha, you sit here.”

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