Read an Excerpt
Back to Reality
Winter break was over and it was back to reality.
I happen to love reality, but my friends weren’t so thrilled about it this morning.
Katie still looked half asleep, and Mia was grumpy. Emma was pleasant if a little quiet, but I was raring to go. After all, ten days without school or friends or the Cupcake Club is a long time! By habit, and without even planning it, all of us Cupcake Club members had convened at Mia’s locker this morning to catch up before homeroom.
“Why can’t it be winter break forever?” Katie was moaning. She leaned against Mia’s locker like she couldn’t spend the energy to stand up on her own.
“Where is my new assignment notebook?” Mia wailed, quickly pawing through her tote bag.
I smiled, not wanting to gloat about being all organized and ready. I’d had all my school things laid out since yesterday: my outfit, my books, my pens, and my day planner. Failing to plan is planning to fail, I always say! (But I don’t say it out loud too much or my best friends get annoyed.)
“Cupcake Club meeting today after school?” I asked, trying not to sound too cheerful since everyone else was kind of down.
They all looked at me blankly. Then Katie said, “How can you even think that far ahead?”
“We can meet at my house . . .,” I offered. “I have some cool quartz rocks I got on the trip I want to show you.”
Mia sighed and slammed her locker shut. “No notebook.” Then she looked at me. “Sure, I’ll come. It will give me something to look forward to on this horrible first day back,” she said.
“Obviously, we’ll all be there,” said Emma, snapping out of her trance.
“Of course we will,” agreed Katie.
Mia was looking carefully at my face.
“What?” I asked. It is kind of annoying to have someone peer at you like that.
“Do you have any balm or cream you can put on that peeling skin of yours?” she asked.
I’m not much of a cosmetics person, even though I periodically try to get into it. It just seems like too much work, and I hate carrying extra stuff in my bag. I shrugged. “No. Does it look terrible?”
“No . . . just kind of painful,” said Mia. “Here.” She reached into her tote bag and took out a huge cosmetics case, then she opened it and rummaged for a minute before pulling out a small tube of face cream. “My mom got free samples at the mall. You can keep it till the peeling stops. Just remember to reapply every hour on the hour.”
“You know, you really should be more careful about sunscreen on the slopes,” said Katie.
“I know, but who would have thought Utah would be so sunny?!” I said. My face had really hurt for days out there, between the sunburn, the windburn, and the dry air.
We reached a turn in the hall and separated for homeroom. I stopped in the bathroom first to apply the cream when Olivia Allen, our resident mean girl, came in. She took one look at me and then began to snicker.
“Does your face hurt? Because it’s killing me!” she said, and laughed to herself.
“Ha-ha,” I said. “Not.” I can take a joke, but a bad one? From someone I don’t like? About my appearance? Please.
“What did you do, fall asleep reading a book in the sun?” she said, all serious and fake-concerned.
“No, it’s from skiing,” I said. I ignored her kind of bratty tone and looked away, busying myself putting the cap back on the cream and stashing it into a pocket of my backpack.
“So, you were reading while skiing? Now that’s impressive!” she said sarcastically.
I was confused. “I wasn’t reading,” I said. “I was skiing.”
“Oh, but I know how much you love to geek out on your homework, so I just assumed—”
“Good morning, girls!” said my homeroom teacher, Ms. Dobson, as she went to wash her hands.
I looked at Olivia for a second longer. She was smirking, amused with herself. Why was she going after me all of a sudden? I mean, Sydney Whitman, our former mean girl who moved away to California, was one thing. But Olivia Allen had never before directly attacked me like this. It was surprising and upsetting. My face was flushed, and my ears burned at the tips, which made them even redder, if that was even possible. I kept playing Olivia’s comments over in my head, the words “geek out” rattling around like pinballs in a machine. Am I a geek? Is that what people think of me? I was too mortified to even work out what my comeback should have been.
When the warning bell rang to head out to our homerooms, I kept my head turned away from Olivia, hoping she wouldn’t say anything else. She must’ve been satisfied with her morning’s work, because she just grabbed her bag and calmly strolled off. I stalled a little to put a good amount of space between us in the hall.
I couldn’t wait to tell the other Cupcakers what had happened. Maybe they could help me figure it out.
The morning started off well after that since I had math (which I love) with my favorite teacher, Mr. Donnelly (who rocks). My next class, though, was English, which is not my favorite. We’re reading Charles Dickens’s book Great Expectations and learning about life in Victorian England. Today, Mrs. Carr announced we would each have to complete an independent project with a visual presentation component that shows what it was like to live in Victorian England. Ugh. Math is so much easier than this, I thought, heading to gym class.
I was lost in thought as I walked to the locker room. What on Earth would I make? I am not crafty or creative, like Katie, who is obsessed with baking, or Mia, who is obsessed with fashion. When we do Cupcake Club stuff, I am mostly in charge of the business side of things—marketing, invoicing, purchasing, and all the numbers stuff. I knew I’d have to brainstorm for this project with my friends. I just hoped their ideas weren’t too wild, because I did not have the skills, patience, or interest to do something over the top.
We didn’t have time to talk about it during gym class, so I was still distracted at lunch when I got on line for food, but suddenly, I realized someone had jostled me and cut me in line. I looked up from the silverware rack to see the unmistakable back of Olivia Allen.
“Hey!” I cried out in protest.
Olivia turned back to look at me. “What?” she asked, all innocent.
“You just cut ahead of me!” I sputtered.
Olivia laughed. “Alexis,” she said, all fake sweet. “I know you have a hearty appetite, what with all those cupcakes you eat, but can you let other people have a chance at the food too?” Then she turned and kept moving along.
I was speechless. To so rudely and blatantly cut me, and then to insult me on top of it? What a jerk! I fought the urge to bash her over the head with my tray. Luckily for Olivia, she headed off to the salad bar while I stopped for the hot meal. I wished I’d had something clever and mean to say to her to put her in her place. I’d have liked to see her blush and shake for once!
By the time I got my food, I was in a red rage. I sought out my friends and stomped over to join them.
“Uh-oh!” said Emma, spying me. She has been my best friend since we were toddlers, so she can always spot my mad face a mile away. “What happened?”
I slammed my tray down hard on the table. “What happened? What happened? I’ll tell you what happened! I hate Olivia Allen, that’s what happened. She is an evil witch, and she is after me!” I proceeded to tell the others all about Olivia’s unwarranted attacks on me so far today. They were appropriately shocked and angry on my behalf, and I began to calm down. By the end of my retelling, I was mostly mad at myself for not coming up with a comeback or beating her down in some way.
“If she was so eager to get her lunch, that line-cutting piggy, then she should have gotten to the cafeteria a little faster!” I snarled.
My friends hooted and clapped. “That’s what you should have said to her!” said Mia, laughing. “‘Line-cutting piggy’! That’s great!”
“I know,” I muttered, digging into my fish taco. “I always think of things like that too late. I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot,” said Katie kindly. “You’re the opposite. Anyway, would you really want to be the kind of nasty person who always has a sharp comment or comeback ready to go? That’s a terrible way to lead your life.”
I nodded. She had a point. But still. “Maybe I’d like to be the person who sometimes has a comeback, instead of the person who never does,” I said. “Oh, and to make matters worse, I have to do a visual component for my presentation on Victorian England for English! What the heck am I going to make?” I wailed.
Mia clapped her hands. “Ooh. What about a costume? I could help you dress up like a Victorian lady. That would be so much fun! The high, tight waist; the long, full skirts; the lace-up shoes . . .!”
“No, you should do a diorama of, like, people selling stuff from carts . . . . You know, Victorian business practices!” suggested Emma.
“Hmm. That would be fun to research,” I said, already imagining the diorama.
“No, what if you did a diorama out of gingerbread!” said Katie, always thinking about food. “Like a Victorian house, but in gingerbread!”
“Yessss!” cheered Mia and Emma.
“That is totally it!” added Emma.
I thought for a minute. “I think that would be really, really hard, even if it is a cool idea,” I said.
“We’ll help you!” offered Katie. “It’ll be fun!”
“Yeah,” Mia chimed.
“Well . . . ” It is hard to turn down your three best friends, whom you already know you work well with in the kitchen, when they’re offering their help on a horrible project like this.
“And Olivia Allen will be so jealous when she sees it, her eyes will pop out of her head!” said Mia.
Well, that sealed the deal for me!
“Okay!” I agreed. “Thanks, you guys! You really are the best.” I pictured Olivia’s jaw dropping as I wheeled some massive and spectacular creation into class. All the kids would be oohing and aahing. It would be glorious!
“Hey, wake up, you two dreamers!” Mia laughed.
Katie was also lost in thought. “Wouldn’t it be cool to do gingerbread houses from all different eras? Like, imagine a log cabin, Little House on the Prairie style. That would be fun to make.”
“Oh, I always wished I’d lived then!” said Emma wistfully. “I would have loved those pioneer days.”
“Uh-uh, not for me. I’d have liked the nineteen seventies! Just think of the clothes!” Mia sighed. “The whole gypsy-peasant look? I would have totally loved that!”
“I think the nineteen fifties had cool clothes,” said Katie. “Those cute Peter Pan collars and the swirly skirts that stick out? I would have looked great in those.”
“What about the sixties? All the hippie stuff?” I said.
“We still have a bunch of those kind of clothes from my grandma,” said Mia. “My mom saved them because they were so chic.”
“It’s funny when you see pictures of how your mom used to dress when she was your age, right?” said Emma. “My mom was our age in the eighties, and her clothes were a disaster!”
“I know, but at the time they thought they looked great!” Mia laughed.
I tried to picture my mom back then. We don’t have too many pictures of her when she was a kid because she hates clutter. I’ve seen some at my grandparents’ house, but now I was wishing I’d seen more. I made a mental note to ask her when she got home from work tonight.
I looked at my watch. It was time to go. I dreaded seeing Olivia again. My reserves were worn down, and I knew I’d probably burst into tears if she was mean to me again (more from my frustration at not knowing what to say back than anything else!). “Back into battle,” I said sadly.
“Come on! You’re tough, Becker!” said Emma. “Don’t let her get the best of you.”
“Yeah, and you’ve got us to back you up!” said Katie, making a fist so puny, I had to laugh. “What?” she protested. “I’m tough!”
Mia added, “We’ve got your back, and all she’s got is some ragtag band of hand-me-down jerks from Sidney Whitman.”
I laughed. “Yeah!”
“Okay, so buck up!” added Mia, rubbing my back supportively. “And remember, fun Cupcake Club meeting at your house today, to look at your new rock thingies.”
“Okay. I’m ready! I can do this!” I said, pumping myself up.
And, of course, because I was ready, I didn’t run into Olivia again—not for the whole rest of the day! Typical! But still, I couldn’t help but wonder what the deal was with Olivia. Why was I suddenly “enemy number one” to her? I forced myself to stop thinking about it and thought about my three smart, beautiful, funny friends instead. Thank goodness for Emma, Mia, and Katie!