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Hailee Richardson never realized how much she hated her Salvation Army life and Goodwill accessories until the night her family won the lottery. But the glow of her smartphone and fancy new clothes wears off when Hailee is transferred to Magnolia Academy, a private school. All of a sudden, her best friend and parents seem shabby compared to the beautiful Magnolia moms and kids. Now, Hailee wants nothing more than to grow up—and away—from her old life. It’ll take one very busy social networking page, a stolen ...
Hailee Richardson never realized how much she hated her Salvation Army life and Goodwill accessories until the night her family won the lottery. But the glow of her smartphone and fancy new clothes wears off when Hailee is transferred to Magnolia Academy, a private school. All of a sudden, her best friend and parents seem shabby compared to the beautiful Magnolia moms and kids. Now, Hailee wants nothing more than to grow up—and away—from her old life. It’ll take one very busy social networking page, a stolen first kiss, and a whole carton of eggs for Hailee to realize that not all luck is good, not all change is bad, and a best friend who’s just a call away will always be more valuable than a phone.
I am innocent.
I know convicts say that even when they're guilty, but I'm telling you the truth. At 3:05 today, I didn't mean to push Amanda on her bike so hard that she sailed off the curb and fell splat on the road in the pickup line after school. Thank God Mrs. McCrory had just paid the garage to tune up her Honda. That van stops on a dime now (and hardly even came close to hitting Amanda).
If you're the type of person who judges people guilty instead of presuming them innocent, you should put this book down and walk away. Don't even look back. But if you're still reading this—and I know you are because there you are and here I am—then you're the type of person who likes to know the truth, and that's just what I'm going to tell you.
"How do you like my new bike?" Amanda had asked, running her fingers along the pink, thickly padded seat. "It's got twelve speeds." She'd made a special trip to my house Sunday afternoon. Her shiny blond hair was still pinned back on either side in her church barrettes, but she'd changed from her dress into capris and a green top. Usually, I rode to her house after church, so that's how I knew she was showing off . A new bike—it wasn't even her birthday.
I stepped out from the chilly shadow of the house into the warm brightness of the day. Florida sunshine is at its best in February. Your feet feel like blocks of ice in the morning, but your toes are sticking out of sandals by lunch. The air is light and sends ribbons of sunshine through your window, inviting you to come outside and play.
Amanda stood by me as I took in the glittery seat, the tangle of wires that allowed for speed and braking, and the rainbow-colored monkeys she'd already clipped to the spokes. The frame was pink and white with black lightning striking the sides. "Nice," I said. "Can I ride it?"
Her gaze flitted over to our garage. Bougainvillea vines crept up the outside of it and wove green tendrils through the fraying net of the basketball hoop. Huge bunches of purpley-pink explosions hid the thin white paint of the cinder blocks. Occasionally, Dad cut the branches with his hedge trimmers, but those vines ran wild at night, growing an extra foot for each one Dad lopped off .
My bike leaned inside the openmouthed garage.
"I don't know," Amanda said and glanced down at her new wheels. She wrapped her fists around the snow-white handgrips. "It is brand-new, you know."
Just for your information, that right there was a direct insult to my bike. Mom bought it for me at a garage sale last summer after talking the guy down to three dollars. You can't beat three dollars, she'd said when I complained about it being a boy's bike and tomato red, which is my least favorite color next to orange. When we got the bike home, it took me half a roll of duct tape to hold the stuffing in the seat.
Amanda's new touring bike and its wide chrome handlebars shone between us, a gleaming beacon of coolness. Compared to mine—well, let's face it, that would be like comparing Disney World to the carnival that sets up the same Tilt-a-Whirl and sorry old Scrambler every fall.
"I'll give you a dollar," I said, fingering the hem of my jean shorts.
She bit her bottom lip. Sunlight glanced off her cheekbone as she angled her face away from me. "A dollar and a pack of Smarties."
She probably thought she was driving a hard bargain. I found the dollar on the road today and Smarties aren't even my favorite.
"How far can I ride it?"
She scrunched her lips. Her answer would make or break the deal and she knew it. "The DeCamps' house and back."
The DeCamps' house—two blocks and one orange grove away. The girl who lived there was our age but went to a private school so we hardly ever saw her. I thought over the deal, stepped up to the bike, and pushed down on the seat.
Amanda whisked my hand away. Shrugging, she said, "Sorry."
I clucked my tongue and touched the handlebars just to annoy her. Two blocks and one orange grove. "Okay," I said and trudged into the house, returning with my payment.
As I got on the bike, she started jabbering.
"Be careful with it! Don't change any of the speeds. I know you're not used to hand brakes so don't pinch them and no skidding!"
I cocked my foot on the pedal and pushed off .
"Don't ride in the gravel!" she yelled. "Watch out for glass in the gutter! Stay on the right side of the road!" I swear, if I had my own phone, she'd be a bug in my ear, calling out more do's and don'ts.
My hair fluttered in the wind as I rode away from her and all her henpecking. Trees raised their limbs as if cheering me on. A squirrel peeked up from acorn hunting as I passed. This bike glided—unlike my bike, which rasped like a cat with a hairball while you pedaled, announcing your journey to everyone you passed.
I rode her brand-new, not-her-birthday bike straight down Crape Myrtle Road and I felt like a princess with all the shiny chrome and whatnot when I reached the corner the DeCamps live on. Everyone knows they're rich. Only rich kids go to private school. I'll bet Emily DeCamp gets a new bike whenever the old one looks dirty.
The DeCamps' lawn rolled over their property with thick crowded sprouts of shag carpet grass. Most of our February yards looked like straw, but the DeCamps' yard was green, green, green. The grass was so thick you had to step up to walk on it, but don't do it because it'll hold your footprint as evidence until Mrs. DeCamp sees what you've done and will probably yell at you.
It had taken me only a minute or so to ride this far. That's how good Amanda's bike was. The road ahead urged me on, flashing its shiny rocks at me and lying flat to make itself more appealing. The rays of the sun stroked my back and lit on my freckles, and boy, if the breeze wasn't fluttering honeysuckle breath right under my nose.
I regretted, for a moment, being an upright citizen.
I turned the handlebars and glimpsed Amanda, who watched me like a hawk from the distance.
"What happened to your old bike?" someone said.
"Aagh!" I was so startled that the front wheel jagged against a rock, I lost my balance, and almost pitched off the bike. I glared at the source of the voice. Emily DeCamp, sitting all hoity-toity on the brick stairs of her front porch. Righting the bike, I said, "I didn't see you."
She pushed her glasses up her nose. "I didn't want you to see me."
I hadn't considered that.
She stared at me. "Your hair is auburn."
My right hand automatically smoothed my hair. "It's titian," I said. Like Nancy Drew's hair, starting with book twenty-five, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.
Emily DeCamp blinked. Then she scribbled something into a composition book. Her dark springy hair fell in front of her as she wrote, like a curtain when the show is over.
"Well ..." I paused, put one foot on the pedal. "Bye."
"Bye," she said, not looking up.
As I rode back, I couldn't enjoy the sight of the last few oranges holding on to their branches or the speed of the bike because Amanda's eyes held me in their green tractor beam. She grabbed the bike before I even got off it. "Did you fall back there?" she asked.
"No, I'm okay."
Her eyebrows knitted together as she inspected one side of the bike, then the other. "You dented the fender."
"No, I didn't!"
If you've ever seen a perfectly nice blue sky morph into dark, sobby rain clouds, then you know what Amanda's face looked like right then. "You did, too," she said. "I saw you fall!"
"I didn't fall!"
"That dent wasn't there before."
"Well, I didn't do it." I leaned to see the damage, but she jerked the bike away from me. I said, "Pipe down." I'd heard that on an old TV show and used it whenever I could.
One corner of her mouth hitched up. Her eyes glistened. Well, who could blame her? It was a brand-new bike. Gently, I ran my hand over the rear fender and, yes, there was a dent, but there's no way I did it. Curling my fingers under the fender, I pushed the metal up as hard as I could.
"You're going to break it!" But she didn't stop me.
Pop! The fender snapped into shape.
Amanda gasped. She crouched beside me, rubbed the fender, and smiled. "You fixed it!"
"It wasn't broken."
She shrugged. Sliding onto the cushy seat, she gestured toward the rear wheel. "Come on," she said. "Ride on the pegs."
"I'll get my bike."
"No! Ride the pegs—I promise I'll go fast!" She twisted her hand around the grip, pretending to accelerate. "You can ride your bike later."
Well! I believe I was off ended. I started to assemble my face into the correct features for the occasion, but then I said to myself, Self, you know you want to ride that bike, so just get on it already, and then I did.
Hoisting myself up, I planted my hands on Amanda's shoulders, and she shoved off . We were still whooping and laughing as we passed Emily DeCamp, whose face flitted up like a sparrow's, cocking her head at the noise.
* * *
Amanda showed me the chalk outline in the garage that marked the parking spot for her new bike. "If Matthew leaves his skateboard or his bat or any of his stuff in my spot, he's in big trouble."
Matthew was three years older than us—a ninth grader, high school!—and a slob who got away with everything. Amanda had to wash dishes, do laundry, and help with the dusting, but all Matthew did was mow the lawn on the riding lawn mower. Now I ask you, is that even a chore?
I will admit—and this is secret—but Matthew also took out the trash, trimmed the bushes, and washed the cars, so he wasn't really a big, fat slob, but Amanda is my very best friend and I have to be on her side. (Matthew's not even fat.)
Amanda rolled the bike exactly into the center of its parking spot and booted the kickstand. She blew pollen specks off the seat. She polished the chrome with the hem of her shirt. She squeezed the tires to see if they needed more air. She couldn't have pampered that bike more lovingly if it were a dog.
We took off our shoes at the back door. I loved their house. Their mom read decorating magazines and tore out pictures from them. Inspiration, she'd say. Then Amanda and I had to tell her what we liked about the room in the picture and what we didn't like and next thing you know, Mrs. Burns was painting or putting up wallpaper or some such.
Takes money to do that, my mom says whenever I try to make little suggestions to her for our house. We don't have the kind of income Mr. and Mrs. Burns do. Behind my back, Mom refers to Amanda's mom as "Lady Burns."
"Matt-eew!" Amanda called out as we passed her brother in the kitchen on our way to the stairs.
I followed behind just as Matthew hefted the milk onto the island while sticking an Oreo in his mouth. Pouring the milk, he turned as I was about to pass him. "Hey, Hailee," he said in chocolate letters.
You'd think I'd be used to his eyes—I saw Amanda's all day long—but the pure greenness of them shocked me every time.
"Hi." My gaze fell to the floor and I rushed up the stairs behind Amanda. You'll notice I didn't put an exclamation point after I said "Hi." That's because I said it very quickly and sort of quietly. Whenever he's nearby, my heart beats too fast, my words get stuck in my throat, and my arms and legs move like a robot's. Matthew plays baseball and never moves like a robot.
Safe in Amanda's bedroom, I sank into her beanbag, which spilled out to make room for my butt while hugging my shoulders.
Amanda threw open her closet. "Three days or two days?"
Sundays were when we decided what we were going to wear for the school week. Three days meant dresses on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; two days meant dresses on Tuesday and Thursday.
I drummed my fingers on my knee. My favorite outfit was getting tight across the top; I once caught a boy staring at me right there when he thought I wouldn't notice, so I folded my arms in front so there wouldn't be anything for him to look at. "Two days," I said. "If I could borrow your denim skirt?"
"Come on." I lowered my chin and batted my eyelashes at her.
She groaned. "Not the puppy face!"
My big brown eyes got her every time. Curving my mouth into a smile, I aimed a sparkle right at her.
"Aagghhh!" She pretended to strangle herself. "But I'm wearing it Tuesday."
* * *
Let me tell you something about Palm Middle School. You have the popular people, who everyone else supposedly hates but secretly wishes they were one. Then you have the almost popular people. They're allowed to sit with the popular people—maybe they knew them before they were famous; maybe they're cousins—but they have no popularity of their own to speak of. If you saw one of them at Kmart or the mall, you wouldn't even care. Amanda and I call them sidekicks because all they do is laugh at the popular people's jokes and follow them around.
Going down the line, you have the sidekicks of the sidekicks, the smart kids, the funny kids, the normal people, the kids who dress all in black, band geeks, nerds, and losers. You can tell who you are by the way people treat you. When I'm with Amanda, I feel like a normal person.
Thursday morning, I paired Amanda's jean skirt with my silky white T-shirt Mom found at Goodwill with the tags still on. When I pulled the top over my head, it whispered against my skin, sliding down my back like soft cascades of fresh spring water.
I padded across the wood floor of my bedroom, making sure to step on all the creaky spots so Mom would know I was getting ready for school. Turning in front of my dresser, I gave my reflection a quick once-over. My new top shimmered with every movement. I stuck gold-colored hoops through my ears and stepped back to examine the finished look.
This is why I needed a full-length mirror; I could see from my waist up only. Still, that's what most people are looking at, so I continued my inspection. Front—good; side—good; other side—small brown mole on tip of ear, but outfit good. I turned all the way around and craned my neck to see my back, which you know is impossible, but I liked that particular reflection, glancing over my shoulder with my mouth a little open, so I made a mental note to use that pose later.
"Hurry up, Hailee!" Mom yelled from downstairs. "Pancakes are ready!"
I spun to see the front again.
I peered into the mirror. I laughed silently to see how I would look later talking with Amanda. I picked up a book and held it in the crook of my arm. I put the book down. I stared at myself as if I were a stranger and saw this girl in the mirror. My eyes fell to the waves of silk.
I stared a little harder.
Was that? ... Oh, no ... it was! I could see the faint outline of my first bra through the shirt.
"MOM!" I stomped my foot at the same time. My fingers pulled at the fabric—maybe if the shirt lay differently—
"I'LL BE RIGHT DOWN!" I rubbed off the top like a snake shedding skin and grabbed a wrinkled green T-shirt from my closet floor. On it, a bunny is looking at a frog who says, "Rabbit." I thought it was funny when I got it for Christmas in fifth grade. Now I was in middle school and I thought it was stupid, or I should say, I discovered it was stupid after a sidekick told me, "Hey, that's stupid." But you couldn't see through it, so I put it on.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Mom arched one penciled-in eyebrow at me. I have practiced that expression with Amanda, but the only way I can do it is if I hold the other eyebrow in place with my fingers.
"Sorry," I said in a rush and kissed the fuzz on my baby sister's head before sitting down.
"Aa-ee!" That's "Hailee" in baby language. Libby is one and a half years old. Olivia is her full name, which is why I call her Libby.
I tugged Libby's feet under the tray of her high chair and she squealed and stamped her baby fork on the tray.
Mom frowned at my shirt. "I thought you were wearing the new one today."
"Doesn't fit," I lied, shoveling the best blueberry pancakes ever made into my mouth.
"Well, you can't go to school in that one—it's wrinkled. I'll get a diff erent top for you."
"No time!" I slurped my orange juice. "I'll be late!"
She glanced at the clock on the micro wave, sighed, and slid into the chair across from me with her coffee. Snuggling into Libby's face, Mom said, "Olivia was a good newspaper girl today." She tickled her feet. "Yes, you were! Yes, you were!" That's all it took for Libby—she giggled, snorted, banged the high chair with her heels, and grabbed her cut-up pancake bits in her fists, squishing them through her fingers like Play-Doh.
Excerpted from A Whole Lot of Lucky by Danette Haworth Copyright © 2012 by Danette Haworth. Excerpted by permission of Walker & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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