Bad Girls in Love

Overview

With eighth grade halfway behind them, best friends Mikey Elsinger and Margalo Epps can predict certain events, like who can't stand them (the usual) and how their grades compare (about the same), like how they feel about the school play (so-so) and the big dance (negative). What they don't predict is that they'll start to like boys...that way.

Then Shawn Macavity is named the lead in the play, and Mikey is struck speechless -- a completely new experience for her. Shawn isn't ...

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2002 Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Stated 1st edition. New book. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 240 p. Audience: Children/juvenile.

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Overview

With eighth grade halfway behind them, best friends Mikey Elsinger and Margalo Epps can predict certain events, like who can't stand them (the usual) and how their grades compare (about the same), like how they feel about the school play (so-so) and the big dance (negative). What they don't predict is that they'll start to like boys...that way.

Then Shawn Macavity is named the lead in the play, and Mikey is struck speechless -- a completely new experience for her. Shawn isn't just any boy. Beautiful, with a hooked nose (it works for him), black (but not dyed) hair, and a name that isn't spelled S-E-A-N, he's the only boy. And so, with a flash of her bug-squashing smile, Mikey goes after him.

Margalo can't help but wonder, has Mikey lost her mind? WAS SHE ABDUCTED BY ALIENS? Where is the Mikey she's known since fifth grade? Meanwhile she has romantic problems of her own to worry about. And unlike Mikey, Margalo isn't telling the whole school about them.

In this fourth book in Cynthia Voigt's Bad Girls series, as Mikey and Margalo struggle to understand that funny thing called love, they find that boys may come and go, but bad girls are bad for life.

Now in the eighth grade, best friends Mikey and Margalo try to figure out boys, crushes, and falling in love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Bad Girls in Love, the latest entry in her Bad Girls series, Newbery Medalist Cynthia Voigt revisits the world of junior high, here exploring the experience of falling in love for the first time. Mikey has a major crush on Shawn, and Margalo has the hots for her teacher and with the school dance fast approaching, they are running out of time to figure out what to do about their situations. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
In this fourth entry in Newbery Medal-winning author Voight's perceptive and amusing Bad Girls series, best friends Mikey and Margalo are now in 8th grade, and experiencing their first crushes. Everyone is pairing off in junior high, a big dance is coming up, and rumors about new relationships are flying. Brash Mikey has never had much use for boys, but when she sets eyes on gorgeous Shawn, the star of the school play, she is smitten—along with most of the other girls. She goes after him in her usual straight-ahead, take-no-prisoners style, undeterred by his lack of interest. At the same time, her parents are getting involved in new relationships of their own. Sly, clever Margalo, meanwhile, is secretly in love with a teacher. Love hurts, the girls discover, but they decide they're ready to be a part of this confusing new world of boys and girls together. Mikey and Margalo continue to delight, with their contrasting approaches to the world (Margalo is "a behind-the-scenes person," as Mickey comments; "I'm the center-stage kind.") and their frank friendship. This gossipy, true-to-life tale about first crushes (no sex here) will appeal to middle school and junior high girls; it's not necessary to have read the other Bad Girls titles to appreciate this one. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2002, Simon & Schuster, Atheneum, 240p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8 Mikey and Margalo are now 14, and stumbling awkwardly into the teenage world of couplehood. As in the previous books, the best friends are not accepted by the popular crowd in school. The other eighth graders are heavily into the social scene, but, while Mikey and Margalo are curious, they are never included in party invitations and seem to have no interest in boys. Then Mikey sees Shawn Macavity, who has suddenly become the epitome of cool, and she falls head over heels into her first crush. She lacks sense and sensitivity as she pursues the uninterested Shawn relentlessly and foolishly. Margalo, meanwhile, has a crush as well. She has fallen for a teacher, but never confides in Mikey, and never seems to interact with him at all. In fact, teachers and parents rarely appear and seem to have little or no impact on these characters' lives. Even when her divorced mother announces her marriage to her much older and rich boyfriend and doesn't invite her to the wedding, Mikey's focus remains on Shawn. While the girls' repartee is entertaining at times, and some readers may enjoy the glimpses into junior high life, this story is full of loose ends, flat characters, and casual references to hot topics from sex, drinking, and drugs to affirmative action, with no follow through. It's all shallow and unsatisfying, so purchase it only if you have major "Bad Girls" fans in your library. -Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A gloriously literate dissection of the hormonal under- and over-currents of junior high school, as performed by Mikey Elsinger and Margalo Epps, back for their fourth appearance. In the eighth grade, apparently, thoughts of just about everyone lightly (and not so lightly) turn to love, and the two Bad Girls are no exception. While Margalo quietly and unrequitedly suffers over Mr. Schramm's mischievous smile, however, Mikey somewhat astonishingly falls-flat-for Shawn Macavity, whose newly won part in The Lady's Not for Burning has made him the most-sought-after male in school. Mikey's pursuit of her chosen prey is typically unsubtle, hopeless, and hilarious (she brings homemade cookies to school for him and chalks their initials on all the chalkboards). It also becomes the narrative motor for Voigt's (It's Not Easy Being Bad, 2000, etc.) explorations of romantic love among both students and adults. While Mikey's infatuation makes her an object of much derision in the girls' bathrooms, her divorced parents enact their own love dramas. Her self-centered mother does not even invite Mikey to her second wedding; her much kinder father works hard to balance fatherhood against a return to the world of dating. As always, the clinical observations of junior-high culture are spot on: "The way rumors grew and spread in junior high, it was like they practiced several different forms of propagation all at the same time . . . " Even as the macrocosm is so dispassionately encapsulated, the microcosm of one individual's emotional state is beautifully evoked: "Mikey went out to the kitchen and poured a bowl of Cap'n Crunches. . . . The milk-and-sugar taste, combined with the friendly crunching soundinside her head as she chewed, made her feel like a little kid." This may well be the Bad Girls' most delicious outing yet; readers will, along with Mikey, look forward to the next time she falls "in lurve. . . . It's pretty much fun." (Fiction. 11-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689824715
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/28/2002
  • Series: Bad Girls Series
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 240
  • Age range: 9 - 13 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia Voigt is the author of over twenty books, including the Newbery Award-winning Dicey's Song. Her more recent publications, however, have been Bad: Bad Girls; Bad, Badder, Baddest; and It's Not Easy Being Bad. While she admits that she wasn't quite the hard-hitting bad girl that Mikey and Margalo are, she tried her best, and sometimes succeeded. She lives in Maine, where they know what a good bad girl is worth.

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Read an Excerpt

WEEK ONE: GIRL MEETS BOY

Chapter 1: THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

They're probably going to announce who got what part."

Mikey spoke against background cafeteria sounds of talk and laughter, clattering dishes, and scraping chairs.

"In assembly," she said. "In..." she looked at her watch, compared it with the clock on the wall, "twenty minutes, or maybe fifteen. Are you nervous?"

Mikey Elsinger and Margalo Epps claimed to have been best friends since the first day of fifth grade, which wasn't exactly true. It could have been if they had been willing to modify their claim with an almost -- best friends since almost the first day -- but neither one of them wanted to be modified, or to be a modifier, either.

"Why did you try out for the play, anyway?" Mikey asked. Margalo wasn't the kind of person who tried to get people to notice her by putting herself up on a stage, or out on a tennis court. What had gotten into her?

Margalo said, "It's Jennet Jourdemayne," which explained nothing to anybody other than herself, but Margalo didn't intend anybody to learn her secret reason, not even Mikey. Especially since Mikey was the last person who'd sympathize.

"It's because I told you last year you were a good actress."

Margalo welcomed the wrong guess. It was bad enough having this horrible hopeless crush on a teacher, but it would be ten times worse if anybody found out about it. And what if he found out about how she felt? Margalo's whole body blushed hot at that thought. It wasn't as if she didn't know that no healthy-minded grown-up man would want a fourteen-year-old girlfriend, even if he wasn't already married. She knewthat. But she still hoped, and she couldn't believe how stupid that was. But as long as nobody knew -- absolutely nobody, not even Aurora -- and Margalo trusted her mother, but she still wasn't going to tell her -- because as long as she was the only one who knew, she was safe.

So Margalo didn't tell Mikey that her guess was way off. But neither did she say it was right on. Instead, she looked mysterious, with a little smile that almost admitted it matched by eyebrows that absolutely denied it. In fact, Margalo was enjoying herself. Even if the secret you know is about yourself -- and mostly just makes you miserable -- still, knowing something nobody else even suspects will increase your self-confidence. Secrets are like that. Besides, it isn't every day you can use the same facial expression to irritate somebody twice.

Mikey knew this trick of Margalo's. She took a gloppy spoonful of chocolate pudding into her mouth, closed her lips firmly, and stared back at her friend while she pushed pudding out between her teeth, then sucked it back onto her tongue, then swallowed it.

Margalo counterpunched. She peeled back the skin on her banana, peeling it down carefully, strip by strip, taking each strip no more than a third of the way down at each peeling, carefully rotating the banana as she carefully, methodically, peeled it.

They played out their two-man scene to their audience of two until Mikey got bored, and broke eye contact, and groused, "Next thing, you'll be going to the dance. With a date."

Margalo knew better. "I'm not even invited to parties."

"Yeah, but neither am I, and I'm a good athlete." Then Mikey wondered, "We don't want to be invited to their parties, do we? Do you? I don't. The stuff that goes on -- "

"Definitely squalid," Margalo agreed.

Mikey and Margalo tended to agree about things. Their quarrels were mostly for style, not substance. They had them because otherwise life would be too tedious, and discouraging. From the start junior high had been bad, and this year it had only gotten worse. In eighth grade school seemed to be all about couples and love and/or sex and/or everything-in-between.

Everything-in-between covered a lot of territory. There were crushes, for one, or a girl would have a thing about a boy. Boys liked girls. Boys and girls really liked one another, or really cared for, really cared about one another. But was it love?

Mikey and Margalo had discussed it -- of course. Their level of accomplishment in love-and-sex-and-everything-in-between was the same: Never been on a date, never been kissed. It was their attitudes that differed. Mikey was mostly outraged -- What's the big deal? Who cares? Whereas Margalo projected scientific detachment -- Aren't human beings bizarre creatures? They had their different attitudes and they each liked having the differing attitudes they had, while at the same time they both agreed that nobody understood either sex or love. But wasn't it curious, as Margalo pointed out, that there was a sex-ed unit in gym, but no love-ed unit in any other class?

They also agreed that they didn't plan to be kept ignorant. As Mikey pointed out, ignorance isn't bliss, it's not knowing something. Not knowing something always put you at a disadvantage, in Mikey's opinion, and that was not where she cared to be.

But it wasn't easy to find out anything about sex, or love, or everything-in-between, especially if you weren't invited to parties. That meant you had to get your field information from secondary sources, and it was Margalo's opinion that people often avoided telling the truth, especially the whole truth and nothing but, about those subjects.

As far as they could tell, the parties seemed to be about slow dancing, close dancing, and long bouts of kissing in darkened rooms. They were about almost getting caught by parents. At the parties maybe there was beer, maybe pot, probably cigarettes, so you could learn how to drink stuff and smoke stuff, things you needed to know for high school. Maybe you'd get fallen in love with at a party -- and everybody wanted a chance to get fallen in love with -- or maybe you'd find someone really special. Mikey and Margalo collected stories about the parties, and rumors, and reports, and they considered them. "I don't believe her, do you?" Margalo would ask, while Mikey fulminated, "Catch me."

Another useful source of information was Mikey's mother, the ex-Mrs. Elsinger, once again Ms. Barcley. Margalo had elevated Ms. Barcley to an educational experience, so she kept herself current with what Mikey's mother was getting up to, at work, at play. "Did you talk to your mother this weekend?" she asked.

"I was watching the Australian Open."

This did not interest Margalo. She'd already heard her fill on that topic from Mikey. Also, it did not answer her question. "But did you talk to her?"

"She's still crazy about this new boyfriend."

"She's always crazy about them, isn't she?"

"It's just my father she couldn't be in love with," Mikey observed.

"You know, all of these boyfriends have been rich and ambitious and already successful, which your dad just isn't. If you think about them, they drive late-model cars, dress in suits and polish their shoes. They take her to four-star restaurants, they take her away for fancy weekends -- your dad didn't do any of those things."

"I just wish she didn't make me meet them."

"Mudpies, Mikey. You're always talking about the places you eat at."

"Besides, this one's much older than she is."

Margalo stared at her friend, who was being the same person she had always been, irritable and impatient and self-confident. Who cares? about summed up Mikey, in a plaid flannel men's shirt (a new fashion low for Mikey) and her baggy cargo pants (a long-gone style, but Mikey either hadn't noticed that or -- more likely -- didn't care). Not noticing things was a big part of Mikey, especially things having to do with people. Margalo knew this about her friend, and sometimes she was really grateful for it. Like now, in the matter of this...thing that was such a big secret part of Margalo's life, ruining it and making it wonderful. After a minute of staring she told Mikey, "People can love people who are older than them," adding for safety, "or younger."

"What do you know about it?" Mikey demanded.

"More than you think," Margalo answered.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Mikey demanded.

Margalo wasn't about to answer that question. Instead, she said, "Your mother keeps having serious relationships. Do you think she's having sex with all of them? Do you think she's in love with all of them?"

"Dad hasn't had even one girlfriend," Mikey said.

"I don't think you can fall in love that often," Margalo decided.

"He's been fixed up. People saying, come for dinner to meet, come to a party to meet. But he hasn't been on a date he asked someone out on," Mikey said. "Not a date of his own."

"Not really in love," Margalo said.

"Do you think there's something wrong with him?" Mikey asked.

"I think there's something wrong with her," Margalo said.

"You know, you probably won't get the part," Mikey said. "Jennet Whoever."

"Thank you for your kind wishes."

"Get real, Margalo. Do you expect me to want you to? You know that if you're in the play, you'll be rehearsing all the time, from now until the performance. Which isn't until May."

"But you're in basketball anyway, or tennis, so why should you care?"

"Because if you're rehearsing, who'll sell our Chez ME cookies?" Last year, after the success of Mikey's cookies in the seventh-grade bake sales, Mikey and Margalo had continued baking and selling cookies. They liked being in business. Margalo welcomed the income and Mikey welcomed the work. It didn't suit Mikey's plans to have Margalo be unavailable for the spring cookie business. "And you won't be able to see my tennis matches," she added. "After I make the team. Again."

That again made them pause to smile at each other. After brief and unspoken mutual congratulations and admirations, they got back to their quarrel.

Margalo said, "I can do more than one thing at a time, you know."

"And baby-sitting jobs too? That's three things."

"I can count," Margalo said.

"I guess you're pretty confident," Mikey grumbled.

"You're the one who keeps telling me to think like a winner."

"I never said you," Mikey objected. "I meant me."

Margalo gathered up her lunch wrappers and put them into the brown paper bag. Mikey piled her dirty dishes back onto the tray. But neither one of them made a move to get up. They were in no hurry to get to an all-school assembly.

"So if you do get this part, do you have to kiss someone?"

"What is this sudden interest in kissing?" Margalo asked.

"What makes you so sure you'll be picked?" Mikey asked.

"I'm not." The only thing Margalo was sure of was that she could hear Jennet Jourdemayne's voice in her head, speaking the lines in a cool-headed, intelligent, courageous way. She hadn't even thought of trying out until Mr. Schramm told her she reminded him of Jennet Jourdemayne. Mr. Schramm had been in a production of The Lady's Not for Burning out in Oregon, he'd said; he'd played Thomas Mendip; this was before he became a family man and turned in his actor's equity card for a teaching certificate. He was glad to see that they were still reading it in schools, he told her. But didn't she have a class to get to? He wouldn't want to make Margalo late for class, he'd said, and asked, why didn't she try out for Jennet?

"What if you don't get it?" Mikey asked. "What if Ms. Larch picks someone else? Like, Rhonda," she suggested, naming one of their long-time favorite people to dislike.

Margalo had the answer. "Then I'll have more time to sell cookies, which means I'll have more money in the bank."

"Although you'll still have to do something for the play. All eighth graders do. I'm going to be an usher."

"Usherette."

"Usheress."

"In a little short, swishy skirt," Margalo said, grinning.

"I'll swish you," Mikey said.

"You'll need to style your hair, like, curl it for an updo. I'll help," Margalo offered.

Mikey's hand went up protectively to the thick braid that had finally gotten back to long enough, almost halfway down her back. "No way."

"You'll be adorable," Margalo promised -- and they both started laughing. Mikey and adorable were vocabulary words from two different languages. Two different languages spoken on two different planets.

"You should usher too," Mikey suggested.

"Ush," Margalo corrected.

"When you don't get the part. It's a minimum-stress assignment, and minimum time commitment. Unless -- would they give you one of the other parts? Is there another part for someone tall and skinny?"

"Jennet is the only part I want."

"You could play a man," Mikey suggested. This was not meant to be flattering.

"It's too bad you didn't have the nerve to try out," Margalo said.

"I thought about maybe that little priest, the one with his lute, the spacey one."

Margalo believed that the best revenge was a quick one. She said, "I guess, because he's supposed to be so short and round, you thought you'd look right."

"Also besides, I don't have time to learn lines. I'd have to miss a lot of practices and also I don't want to let the team down by not playing in a basketball game because of some rehearsal. Also, tennis begins in March, and I'm not about to miss that. So it's not that I didn't have the nerve," Mikey said, with her I-guess-I-win smile.

Margalo's attention had moved on to the new problem: If she didn't get the part, she was going to have to do something else for the play. Every student in each grade -- and every teacher, too -- had to do something for the West Junior High School annual class projects, the dance given by the seventh grade for eighth graders, and the play given by eighth graders for everyone. She was about to ask Mikey about the ushering committee, when Tanisha Harris pulled out one of the empty chairs -- there were many to choose among near Mikey and Margalo -- and sat down in it.

Tan was the only girl as serious about sports as Mikey. In grade school, when they first met her, she was serious about volleyball, but since last year she'd been serious about basketball instead. Tan had a good chance at an athletic scholarship for college, since she was a really good athlete, and smart enough, and African American. She looked at Margalo with dark, measuring eyes and said, "I've got bad news. Do you want to hear it?"

"How bad?" Margalo wondered.

"Not bad like your dog died. This is like -- a dead-goldfish level of badness," Tan said. She had always run closer to their wavelength than other people. "It's like a you'll-hate-dinner -- it's on a liver-for-dinner level."

"I don't mind liver," Mikey objected.

"OK," Margalo decided. "Tell."

"My grandmother loves it," Mikey told them.

"You know that today in assembly they're announcing who got parts in the play?" Tan asked.

Margalo nodded.

"Sautéed, with onions and red wine," Mikey said.

"I know who's going to be Jennet Jourdemayne. Sorry, but it's not you."

"Hah!" Mikey crowed. All victories welcome, that was her motto.

"Hunnh," said Margalo. She was cool, nothing surprised her, nothing got her excited, nothing could upset her or disappoint her.

"I told you so," Mikey said.

"Mikey," Tan protested.

"Well I did," Mikey maintained.

Tan grinned. "You're so bad, you're perfect."

Mikey smiled right back at her, a So-what? smile.

"How'd you find out?" Margalo wanted to know.

"The way they're announcing it, they're calling the people up onto the stage. I guess they think that'll make it more exciting for everyone, like the Oscars or something. Aimi told me. She's going to be Jennet. Ms. Larch told her yesterday so she'd be ready to be called up on stage, and Aimi was too excited not to tell someone." Tan continued, "I thought you were just as good as Aimi in tryouts. You're a good liar, so it makes sense that you'd be a good actress."

"Aimi must have been better," Mikey pointed out. "Otherwise, why would she get the part?"

"She's black." Tan made a point of not adding dummy, made such a big point that she might as well have said it out loud, which was exactly her point. "Except for that, Aimi and Margalo are built a lot alike, tall and slim, and they're both pretty enough. The only real difference I can see is Aimi's not white. So, I figure, Ms. Larch wanted someone who looked different from everybody else for Jennet, because...People in those days would single her out and believe she might be a witch because she looked different -- when they were looking for someone to blame, for a scapegoat when things went wrong."

"That's smart casting," Margalo agreed.

"Did she tell Aimi all that?" Mikey asked.

Tan just looked at her, eye sarcasm.

"Yeah, but then how do you know?" Mikey insisted. Then she said, "Wait. OK. I do get it." In case they didn't believe her, she explained. "The play's set in the Middle Ages, and the Middle Ages are a lot like junior high. The Middle Ages are the junior high of history. In both places, if you look different, or act different, people are nervous, scared of you. Get people scared of you and they'll start doing things to make themselves feel un-scared, like -- burning you at the stake. It's as simple as math: Different is scary, new is scary, change is scary -- burn, burn, burn." Each time she said burn, Mikey pointed at Margalo or Tan, as if she was sentencing somebody to be tied to a stake and roasted alive. "I'll tell you what scares me," she said, as if either Margalo or Tanisha had asked. "People."

"The Salem witch trials weren't during the Middle Ages," Margalo pointed out.

Mikey ignored her. "By 'they' I mean mostly men," she said. "Because women couldn't do much of anything back then. Well, they could, and some of them did. Joan of Arc, for example, and look what happened to her because she acted different from other people, and looked different, especially dressed different. Things haven't really changed at all since then, have they?"

Margalo considered deflating this R&R, which was what her mother called it when Mikey got going on some topic, because it was the opposite of Rest and Recreation. With Mikey, Aurora maintained, R&R stood for Rant and Rave. Margalo was about to advise Mikey to put a lid on it, when Frannie Arenberg, who'd stopped on her way out of the cafeteria to listen, did it for her. "I think the human race has made some good progress since the Middle Ages," Frannie said.

"Yeah, but you also think Louis Caselli isn't so bad," Mikey pointed out.

"That's because Louis has a giant crush on her," Tan said.

Frannie never minded being teased, not about her plain, Quaker style of dressing, not about her reputation as the nicest person in school, not even about Louis Caselli's crush. She said, "I feel sorry for Louis."

"Louis has the brains of a mushroom," Mikey agreed. "We have to forgive him. At least," she added, "the rest of you have to. I don't think I will."

"Besides, as we all know, Louis is no competition for..." Margalo lingered on the silence before she uttered the name in a breathless, sighing voice, "Gregory Peck." Frannie's crush on Gregory Peck had begun when they'd been shown the movie of To Kill a Mockingbird last year. She didn't care if he was old enough to be her grandfather -- or great-grandfather by now; and Margalo did agree that he was incredibly handsome. But there was old, and there was way old, and Gregory Peck was definitely in the second category.

As soon as Margalo mentioned the one, Mikey leaned toward Tanisha to murmur the name of the other: "Tiger Woods." In eighth grade you wanted to be half of a couple, so if they didn't have a personal boyfriend, girls could get crushes on celebrities. The important thing was to have a name linked to yours. Almost all eighth graders were linked to someone. Not Mikey, and not Margalo, and there were a few others, too, although not many. Casey Wolsowski was one of these -- unless you counted linking your name up to the hero of some book, which most people didn't. This far into the year everybody knew about Frannie's crush and Tanisha's ideal man, so they got teased a lot.

Frannie and Tan looked at each other. "Their time will come," Tanisha promised.

"In your dreams," Mikey answered, and Margalo let Mikey speak for her in this, as if she and Mikey were in exactly the same position, untouched, and untouchable.

"Anyway, I'm not about to waste time and erasers on a notebook," Mikey declared. Eighth-grade girls erased their boyfriends' initials onto the fronts of their spiral notebooks. It was practically an eighth-grade art form, initialing anything you could get an eraser on. "Haven't you seen Ronnie's notebooks, with Doug's name all over them? And Rhonda -- it's pitiful. She's pitiful. She always was, but this year she's reached new levels of pitifulness. Or Heather McGinty, the way she drools around after whoever scored highest in the last game, whoever everybody's talking about. Acting like she's some movie-star irresistible sex goddess, hinting about how hot she is." Mikey concluded this R&R, "The whole thing's -- it's really embarrassing, and Heather's not even embarrassed."

Then she grinned. "I'm enjoying eighth grade."

Then she glared at Frannie. "What's so funny?"

Frannie stood up, shaking her head. "I have to get an aisle seat for the assembly," she apologized, "because I got a part."

"Which one?" Margalo asked, making a silent guess, The mother.

"The mother," Frannie said.

"Typecasting," Mikey announced.

"No it isn't," Margalo said. "The mother isn't -- "

Mikey held up both hands, palms out like a policeman facing traffic, Stop. "Leave me something to be surprised at, why don't you? Who else got parts?" she asked Frannie.

"I thought you wanted to be surprised. Anyway, we're not supposed to tell," she added, leaving.

"Are you trying to get rid of the few friends you have?" Tan asked Mikey.

"What did I do to you? I just said his name, just Tiger. Ti-ger, Ti-ger." Mikey ducked out of Tanisha's reach. "I didn't say anything about, That's a weird name, or, How dumb is it to think you're in love with some sports hero who never even heard of you and never will."

"No different from a movie star or a rock star," Tanisha maintained.

But Margalo disagreed. "Tiger Woods is a whole different story from Tyrese." Then she was diverted. "Denzel Washington. I could go for Denzel Washington."

"Or Will Smith," Tanisha agreed.

Mikey groaned. They ignored her.

Margalo didn't remember when it had become fun to make lists of handsome guys, fun just to think about who should be on the list; but she didn't deny that she enjoyed it. It was more interesting than listing all the boys in your class, ranked in order of who you'd like to kiss, or go on a date with, or marry, which one you'd most want to be marooned on a desert island with, or -- this was the currently popular list -- dance with, or slow dance with or super slow dance with, which were all the same unspoken question: Who do you want to go to the dance with? If every boy was going to ask you, who would you choose?

As some art-room kids passed by, Cassie Davis -- front-runner for the title of eighth grader with the worst attitude -- stopped to ask Mikey, "You coming to assembly? Or what?"

"Is there an or what choice?" Mikey asked, then "I'm not joking," she protested.

"I know," Cassie said. "That's what makes you so funny."

"I'm not funny," Mikey told her.

"I'll save you a seat," Cassie said, passing on by.

"Why does she think because we're in the same homeroom, she should save me a seat?" Mikey demanded.

"She doesn't mean it," Margalo explained. "She won't do it."

"Then why does she say she's going to? People," Mikey said, disgusted.

Being disgusted with people reminded her of something else. "What committee are you going to be on for the play?" she asked Tan.

Tan was rising, and it really was time to start over to the auditorium. She said, "Promotion -- you know, getting advertisers for the programs, finding stores that'll let us put up posters. The committee only meets during lunches, and we can sign up the advertisers and ask at stores during the weekends. It's Mrs. Sanabria's committee so you know it's not going to interfere with the basketball schedule," she said as she joined up with Ronnie Caselli and others from the team.

Watching the cafeteria get empty, Mikey looked at Margalo and smiled, a grim Let's-look-for-a-bright-side smile. "The sooner it starts, the sooner it'll be over."

Like someone about to step into the dentist's office, Margalo tucked her straight, chin-length hair behind her ears and squared her shoulders. "If you say so." She rose from her seat.

Slowly, reluctantly, they got going, drifting out of the cafeteria, drifting down the hallways, drifting into the auditorium, just two jellyfish riding along on tidal waters.

Copyright © 2002 by Cynthia Voigt

Chapter 9: You're Not Sick, You're Just In Lurve

How could you?" That was what Mikey wanted to ask Shawn all day Monday, and again on Tuesday -- "How could you do that?" -- when she was giving him a Chez ME bag holding chewy ginger cookies. "How could you kiss Heather McGinty that way?" she thought whenever she saw his face, "How could you want to do that?"

She didn't ask out loud, of course. Their conversations were few and brief: "I made these." "Thank you." Few and brief and not exactly brilliant was what their conversations were, with no space for questions like "How could you?"

She did leave messages at the bottoms of the chalkboards in all his classes, four little letters and the plus sign; no hearts, no arrows, just a little letterly reminder, in case he wanted to think about it. ME + SM. She hoped that it wouldn't be much longer before he did think about it. She hadn't been thinking about much of anything else for eight days already.

Heather was having another party on the weekend -- of course. Shawn was going -- How could he? But Mikey wouldn't have been able to go even if she had been invited. She had to go to her mother's again, a command performance. "It's our last time alone," her mother had said, "and I need you to help me pack." So while Mikey had to be back in the city doing whatever was so important to her mother, Shawn was going to a party at Heather's -- again.

By Wednesday it was settled who was giving parties on which day, Heather on Friday and Ronnie on Saturday. Everyone -- meaning primarily Shawn Macavity -- would be there. But not Mikey. Not Margalo, either, which meant at least that Mikey wasn't the only person left out, but also that Mikey had nobody there who would report back to her on Sunday about what had happened at the parties. There were only ten days until the dance, and everybody knew it. If you were going to go with a date, you were running out of time to ask, or be asked.

Mikey and Margalo were having lunch together on Wednesday and talking about who already had a date, who wanted to ask who, who hoped who wouldn't ask her, and what groups were gathering to go to the dance dateless. Margalo reported, "Louis asked Frannie. Big surprise. But she said she didn't want to go with a date. So he asked Heather Mac. Then Derrie. Cheryl. Sandy. Annaliese. Then Frannie again -- I think he was hoping she'd feel so sorry for him she'd say yes. But that's everybody he's asked so far. Do you think he'll ask us? I almost hope he does," she laughed. "But probably not. Probably over his dead body."

For some reason Mikey needed to say to Margalo, "I really want Shawn to ask me."

"I am aware of that."

"Don't be so sarcastic at me. I really do. I mean, really really."

"You've really, really told me that same thing about five hundred times," unsympathetic Margalo answered.

"I could ask him."

"And I've told you about five hundred times my opinion about that."

"What makes you think you're so right? You know," Mikey admitted, "I never wanted anything so much as him."

"Why?" Margalo asked, looking right at Mikey. "No, seriously, why do you want him? For a kissing op? Mall op? Dating op?"

"Who says there has to be a reason?" Mikey demanded. "What makes you know so much about it anyway? You've never even wanted to have a boyfriend." She looked closely at Margalo, staring into her brown eyes, unexpectedly unsure. "Have you?"

And what did it mean when Margalo smiled in that way? Not a Lucky-me smile or a wouldn't-you-like-to-know one, but as if she was sitting on a tack. "There was Ira," Margalo said.

"That was just in fifth grade," Mikey said.

"How do you know?"

"And he was never your boyfriend anyway."

"You didn't say I never had one. You said I never wanted one."

"If Ira asked you to the dance, would you go?" But before Margalo could answer that question, Mikey said, "You'd look pretty funny dancing with Ira Pliotes."

"I didn't say now," Margalo said, with that tack-sitting smile.

And suddenly there was Ralph Cameron standing in front of her. Ralph just loomed up behind Margalo's back, with his floppy brown hair and the rugby shirt boys were wearing that winter. "What do you want?" Mikey demanded.

"Hey, Ralph," Margalo said, turning her head to look up at him and then looking back at Mikey with her eyebrows raised in a question.

"Hey, Margalo," Ralph answered. "Listen, Mikey, I want to ask -- "

"No," Mikey said.

Margalo made a wrinkly face at her, a What's-wrong-with-you? face. But what was so wrong with not wanting someone to ask you to a dance when you already knew you wouldn't go with him? She'd just said her no early, that was all.

"Give me a chance," Ralph said. "I only want to ask -- "

"But why, when I already said no?" Mikey demanded.

She didn't think it was particularly smart of Ralph to ask her to the dance, when everybody knew how she felt about Shawn.

"Because we'd win," Ralph said.

"Win what? Is there some contest at the dance?"

"Not the dance," Ralph said, as if that was the wildest idea he'd heard all morning, or all year. "Geez, Mikey -- you didn't think...? How could you think...? I'm taking Heather to the dance, everybody knows that. You're really weird, Mikey."

"Oh, yeah?"

Well, maybe she was, because it was disappointment she was feeling now, finding out that Ralph didn't want to ask her to the dance.

"Yeah. You are. But I still think you'd make me a good partner in mixed doubles. For tennis. This spring. I'm talking about tennis, Mikey."

"Mixed doubles?" At least that made sense. She tried to remember what kind of a game Ralph played. "You're asking to be my mixed doubles partner for the tennis team?" Ralph wasn't a bad player, she remembered, trying to recall his service returns, if he approached the net behind them. "I'll think about it," she promised him.

"We could win big time," he told her.

"I said I'd think about it," she told him. And she would, but now she wanted him to go away, because what if Shawn saw her talking to Ralph, and thought she was fickle and had already gotten interested in somebody else, and wouldn't even consider liking her back because of that. "So -- that's that," she said, and dismissed him. "What are you hanging around for?"

And now Margalo had covered her eyes with her hands and was shaking her head, No, no, no, no, no.

"What?" Mikey demanded, but before Margalo could start telling her how dumb she was, Mikey went back to what really interested her. "What days do you have rehearsals?" she asked Margalo, to which the answer was, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, when usually no teams had games, so then Mikey wanted to know, "Are these rehearsals in the auditorium?" to which the answer was, "No, in Ms. Larch's classroom. Why?"

As if Margalo didn't already know.

What Margalo didn't tell Mikey -- because she didn't want to have any more conversations than they already did about Shawn Macavity, and neither did she want the job of carrying messages from Mikey to Shawn -- was that Ms. Larch had her working with Shawn on his lines. That was what the early rehearsals were all about, Ms. Larch told them. "Because I wasn't born yesterday. It is hard work learning lines, and not all of us -- let's face it -- enjoy hard work. Lieblings," she said to them all when they had gathered for their first rehearsal, "acting is the easy part. For acting, you have an audience." She waved her scarf in the direction of where an audience would have been seated if this had been a stage, and laughed knowingly. "But first, we must all do the hard work. Onward!" she urged them. "Excelsior!"

It turned out that Shawn stank at memorizing, and he also didn't seem to be doing any preparation at home. After two rehearsals Margalo knew his Act I lines better than he did -- although he didn't seem to notice that. Shawn's acting ability was physical, the way he moved his body or the way he stood still. He wasn't a natural at words, however; and sometimes Margalo had to explain to him what a line meant. "You sure?" he'd say.

Margalo would try to explain the language and the joke. "When he says he travels light, it's like, a rolling stone gathers no moss."

"Oh, Rolling Stone. I read that sometimes," Shawn would say. "Is that why it's called that? But all this Thomas Mendip guy does is talk. He talks too much. You know? For a soldier. And you really get off on him, don't you? That's weird. You know? You're pretty weird, Margalo. Not as weird as Mikey, but -- don't get me wrong, I like you fine and you're really helping me with this."

Margalo wasn't about to tell Mikey that her wanna-be boyfriend was as thick as two planks. She wished Ms. Larch would have her work with someone else, like Hadrian, who had already made up this great voice for his role, all frothy and floaty and not at all like his usual creaky one. But Margalo was stuck with Shawn Macavity.

As they came out of Ms. Larch's room at the end of Wednesday's rehearsal Cassie happened to be there, after Art Club, and so were some of the girls who'd had basketball practice, Mikey among them. Mikey didn't have a chance at Shawn because Cassie grabbed his attention.

"Yo, Tooth!" she called. "How could you do that?"

"Do what?" Shawn asked. "Hey," he greeted some of the other girls, "hey, hi. Hey, howareya?"

"All that kissing with Heather," Cassie said.

That got his full attention.

"I mean, she's so blonde -- and she tricked you into it and -- how could you fall for that? And kiss her like she says you did?"

"Back off, Cassie," Shawn warned. "What makes it any of your business?"

Cassie stood right in front of him. "So how was it?" She meant him to be embarrassed. "On a scale of one to ten, how do you rate kissing Heather? I should tell you, she only gave you a six."

"What?" Shawn asked. "What're -- "

"All right, I lie, it was a seven."

"What did I ever do to you?" Shawn looked around to ask, "What did I ever do to her?"

"Probably it's best not to say anything. You wouldn't want to kiss and tell, would you? Although, your kissing partner doesn't have any problem with that. See you around, Tooth," Cassie said, and sauntered off.

Margalo didn't mention the scene as they rode home on the late bus. Mikey sat silent beside her until finally, two stops before Margalo was going to get off, Mikey turned from the window to ask, "Why would Cassie do that? I didn't think she disliked him that much. Not like Louis."

"D'you mean like Louis dislikes him? Which is jealousy, or d'you mean like we dislike Louis, because he's such a general twit?"

"I mean her, about him," Mikey said.

"You want to hear what I think?"

"Isn't that what I just asked you?"

"Sometimes," Margalo reminded her, "you ask me but you don't mean it."

"This time I do," Mikey said.

"I think she's got a crush on him," Margalo said.

Mikey disagreed. "It's the opposite -- everybody knows that."

"It's only a theory I have."

"You think Cassie's after him too?"

"It's just a guess," Margalo said. "You know, the way sometimes someone likes someone and they deny it by acting especially unfriendly," Margalo explained.

"No," Mikey said, not at all puzzled, just irritated, "I don't know."

"It's actually a way of getting someone's attention, if you think about it. A backwards way."

"But if everybody's after him, how am I ever going to get him?" Mikey moaned. "No matter what I wear." That day she had put on a blue blouse, because her mother and the saleslady said (and Margalo agreed) that the color looked good with her skin.

Margalo had her own interesting thoughts to follow. "Which makes quarreling a flirtation op."

"My mother says a woman should play hard to get," Mikey told her.

"You could say that Cassie's making sure he knows she'd be hard to get," Margalo said.

"But I don't want to play anything," Mikey said. "I don't even think I can."

"Because if she didn't act like that, he might not notice her at all," Margalo said.

"Except sports," Mikey said. "What do you think about Ralph being my doubles -- "

But they were at Margalo's stop and she rose to go down the aisle and get off the bus.

"I'll call you," Mikey yelled after her.

Margalo had to work with Shawn again the next day, Thursday, and he still didn't know his lines. That didn't bother him. Nothing bothered him, not even when she pointed out the obvious. "You didn't do any work at all on this last night."

"I was busy." Shawn's facial expression, and the way he shifted in the desk, both said, What's your problem?

She told him, "As an actor, you're a natural with your body. And your face."

Praise was old news by now to Shawn.

"But you do have to know your lines."

"I'm trying," he said. "You're just some perfectionist genius. Do you expect me to be able to do everything in one night?"

She could see that half of his attention was on a cluster of girls presently studying in one corner of Ms. Larch's classroom, where movie posters decorated the bulletin boards and -- now that she noticed it -- there was a little line of initials at the bottom of the chalkboard, ME joined with a plus sign to the initials SM. (Oh, Mikey, Margalo thought, and started figuring out ways to get those initials erased without anyone noticing.)

Shawn was smiling over at Heather Thomas and Rhonda Ransom, where they were rehearsing their lines in one corner of the room. He raised his eyebrows and jerked his head toward Margalo, for their benefit. They covered up their giggling mouths as if covering up a burp, to let him know they got it. He turned his attention to Aimi.

Margalo really wished Ms. Larch had assigned her to work with Hadrian and Frannie, but they, of course, didn't need any assistance to use rehearsal time well. She could even hear them, Hadrian's voice all pompous and confident now, since he was reading the mayor's lines to cue Frannie. Margalo looked at Shawn smiling at Aimi, and sighed.

Aimi didn't smile back. "She's mad at me," Shawn said to Margalo. "Aimi, I mean. Do you think?"

"Maybe she's bored with you."

"Naw," Shawn said.

At least, Margalo reminded herself, Ms. Larch hadn't asked her to work with Louis, who had started the rehearsal by going up to Melissa, in front of everybody, to ask, "Why don't you be my date for the dance?" and when she said no, she already had a date, she couldn't, he turned to Rhonda. "I guess it'll have to be you."

"Let's try the first scene again," Margalo said to Shawn patiently. "Give me your first line."

He wrinkled up his face to show how hard he was thinking. With his eyes on the audience across the room, he knocked at the side of his head with the flat of his hand, as if to jar words loose in there, then rapped with his knuckles on his forehead -- Anybody home? Finally he said, "Body?" At Margalo's expression he tried again, "Soul?"

To test him, Margalo maintained her expression.

"I give up," he said. "Tell me." Then he looked over at his audience. He moved his forefinger in a circle at his temple, then pointed at Margalo. To Margalo he said, "Don't be too weird if you can help it."

"I can't help it," Margalo said. "I don't want to help it," she told him. "I don't want to help you, either," she said.

"Hey, what'd I do?" Shawn asked.

Margalo couldn't begin to tell him.

Mikey was there again at the end of rehearsal, lurking at the door, wearing an off-the-shoulder blouse that actually, Margalo thought, looked good. Margalo hated the style, all '70s fake peasant, but Mikey's shoulders were as round as her arms, and for the first time Margalo could see why the style had been popular. Most of the day Mikey had covered her blouse with a jacket, but this was a Shawn op so she wanted to look as good as she could.

The students in Ms. Larch's room were gathering up their books now because the bell was about to ring and they had buses or mothers to meet. Louis said, "Hey everybody, look who's here. It's Cinderella. She's come for you, Shawn."

Shawn glanced over to the doorway.

"No," Louis said, "I'm wrong. It's not Cinderella, it's her pumpkin." He laughed.

Shawn laughed with him. "Not bad, Lou." He jammed his copy of the script into his jacket pocket. Melissa called over to him, asking him something, and all of the girls except Aimi and Frannie gathered around him for a couple of minutes. Shawn bobbled from one girl to the other, before he turned his back to all of them, raised his free hand over his shoulder in a wave, and exited the room. As he went through the door he took the brown bag Mikey offered, said something without looking at her, and moved off.

Mikey followed him, not trying to catch up. Margalo actually admired the way Mikey was going after Shawn -- the same way she went for an overhead smash, whap, as hard as she could. She didn't sympathize with Mikey's choice, but she approved of her methods.

As the room emptied, Margalo also gathered together her papers and books. "Margalo," Ms. Larch said. "Can I have just the tiniest word with you?"

Margalo waited.

"How's our Shawn doing?" Ms. Larch asked. "Or perhaps I should ask, how badly is he doing? Oh, yes, I did know it. He's my calculated risk because he looks so right. He's Thomas Mendip in his bones. But how is he doing with the lines?"

"Well, he's not a quick study -- "

Ms. Larch's laughter cut her off. The teacher had a deep, chesty laugh that bubbled up through her throat, the kind of laugh you want to join in with. Margalo joined in.

"But he's such a lovely-looking boy, so handsome. However, in the interest of progress it might be that I should take over the job of rehearsing him?"

Margalo said quickly, "I'm not the right person to work with Louis."

"Oh, liebling, I do know that. There are the others -- Aimi, Rhonda and Heather, Ira and Jason. You've done better with Shawn than I dared to hope, but I suspect that now he needs to hear that he can lose the role. He needs...just a pinch of insecurity, a little soupçon of fear. I promise you, I know these actors," she told Margalo. "I will not let him bring down my play."

Margalo couldn't think of what she was supposed to say. "Un-hn," she said.

"And on another topic, Hadrian has offered to share your responsibilities as stage manager. Before we accept, I need to be sure his academic work won't suffer if he undertakes two positions in the play, and one of them a performance role."

Margalo could reassure her. "If Hadrian says he can do it, he probably can."

Ms. Larch studied her, intently, dramatically. Then, "May I tell you something?" she asked. She didn't wait for an answer, and Margalo didn't try to interrupt her with one. After all, can a student say to a teacher, No, you can't tell me something?

Ms. Larch told her, "You know, I wanted you for Jennet -- well, to be absolutely truthful, it was between you and Aimi -- but Mr. Schramm convinced me that you were a better choice for assistant director. Mr. Schramm thinks very highly of you, Margalo, and not only as a student. He admires you. I want to tell you, I'm glad I took his advice. He was an actor himself, did you know that?"

Margalo nodded, unable to speak.

"I always seek out his input on my productions. So you can thank him for your chance to work with me."

Margalo nodded again.

"And you're learning a great deal, too, about the theater," Ms. Larch told her, adding one of those pronouncements teachers like to make about students, "although you don't know it."

And how she knew that, Margalo couldn't have said, since it was false anyway. But she smiled and bobbed her head and was in fact quite pleased with this conversation.

It wasn't Mikey's turn for the window seat, but she got there first so she took it. All the windows in the bus were opened from the top to freshen the air inside which stank of the sweat worked up in basketball practices, especially the smell of boys' sweaty sneakers. Mikey huddled inside her jacket, trying to stay warm. This dressing to look good often meant you weren't comfortable, and she looked out the window, thinking about how cold she was. Then she turned to glare at Margalo. "You should go into business designing clothes."

She could see that Margalo had been thinking about something else. Something that made her happy, and Mikey had no idea what it might be. She thought about asking what the good news was.

Instead, "You should design comfortable clothes," Mikey said. "Comfortable and good looking." Sometimes she wished she could be more like Margalo, and not just to be thin. Mikey would have liked to be able to forget what Louis Caselli had said, one of his garbagy fat jokes. Or at least she'd like to be able to keep to herself how those cracks of his got through to her. Or maybe she'd just like to still be the kind of person who would pop him one on his big mouth. She heard herself telling Margalo, "I can diet, you know. If I want to. Even if the doctor said -- I told you, didn't I? -- she says I'm the middle of the upper third of the weight curve for my height."

"That's just Louis being a jerk," Margalo told her.

Mikey knew that. "I tried going on a diet," she said. "Last week. I didn't eat anything all day."

"That's not a diet, that's a hunger strike," Margalo said.

The bus jerked to a stop, let some people out, closed its doors and jerked going again.

"There's a difference between dieting and starving, and why would you do that, anyway?" Margalo asked. "What's wrong with the way you look?"

Mikey's opinion exactly. She just wanted corroboration. That settled, she asked, "So, what's got you so happy?"

"Oh," Margalo said. "Nothing," she said. "Just things," she said. "A good rehearsal. I like being assistant director, it's interesting. You know who's really good? Hadrian Klenk. He's got a terrific voice; he can sound like anybody. And Aimi's good too, Aimi's going to be good in that part."

"You're a behind-the-scenes person," Mikey announced. "I'm the center-stage kind."

"I noticed," Margalo said. She gathered her book bag onto her lap as they approached her stop. "She's not as good as I would have been, though," she said, getting the subject of conversation back to herself, Mikey noticed.

Well, Mikey admitted, she was pretty self-centered herself, and she thought most people were. In her experience. Only, being Margalo's friend meant that Margalo included Mikey in her self-center a lot of the time. That's what being friends was, wasn't it?

And, Mikey thought, thinking on, that's what love was too, only more so. "You know what gets me?" she asked Margalo.

Margalo was rising up, holding on to the back of the seat in front of her for balance as the bus lurched. "Everything," she answered.

"No, besides that. What gets me is the way -- I mean, I know I'm not in love. Not love," Mikey said. "But what is the word for what I'm in? There isn't one," she told Margalo.

"Crush," Margalo suggested. "Infatuation. Puppy love."

"Those are such put-downs. What kind of a word is crush, for a feeling?"

"Lust?" Margalo suggested.

"Doesn't that have to mean sex? I mean, real sex," Mikey asked. She switched back to her own thoughts. "And then, I love lasagna."

Margalo was walking away now, so Mikey said to her back, "Call me. I'll call you."

Later that evening, when the phone rang, Mikey answered it cautiously. "Hello?" She didn't know, these days, who might be on the other end of the line.

"Lurve," Margalo said. "We'll call it lurve. Spelled with a u-r. Think about it, Mikey. You're in lurve -- like a combination of lurch and love."

Mikey didn't waste time thinking. She tried the word on, as if it was some dress in a department store. "I'm in lurve with Shawn Macavity," she said.

"You certainly are," Margalo agreed.

Copyright © 2002 by Cynthia Voigt

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First Chapter

WEEK ONE: GIRL MEETS BOY


Chapter 1: THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM


They're probably going to announce who got what part."

Mikey spoke against background cafeteria sounds of talk and laughter, clattering dishes, and scraping chairs.

"In assembly," she said. "In..." she looked at her watch, compared it with the clock on the wall, "twenty minutes, or maybe fifteen. Are you nervous?"

Mikey Elsinger and Margalo Epps claimed to have been best friends since the first day of fifth grade, which wasn't exactly true. It could have been if they had been willing to modify their claim with an almost -- best friends since almost the first day -- but neither one of them wanted to be modified, or to be a modifier, either.

"Why did you try out for the play, anyway?" Mikey asked. Margalo wasn't the kind of person who tried to get people to notice her by putting herself up on a stage, or out on a tennis court. What had gotten into her?

Margalo said, "It's Jennet Jourdemayne," which explained nothing to anybody other than herself, but Margalo didn't intend anybody to learn her secret reason, not even Mikey. Especially since Mikey was the last person who'd sympathize.

"It's because I told you last year you were a good actress."

Margalo welcomed the wrong guess. It was bad enough having this horrible hopeless crush on a teacher, but it would be ten times worse if anybody found out about it. And what if he found out about how she felt? Margalo's whole body blushed hot at that thought. It wasn't as if she didn't know that no healthy-minded grown-up man would want a fourteen-year-old girlfriend, even if he wasn'talready married. She knew that. But she still hoped, and she couldn't believe how stupid that was. But as long as nobody knew -- absolutely nobody, not even Aurora -- and Margalo trusted her mother, but she still wasn't going to tell her -- because as long as she was the only one who knew, she was safe.

So Margalo didn't tell Mikey that her guess was way off. But neither did she say it was right on. Instead, she looked mysterious, with a little smile that almost admitted it matched by eyebrows that absolutely denied it. In fact, Margalo was enjoying herself. Even if the secret you know is about yourself -- and mostly just makes you miserable -- still, knowing something nobody else even suspects will increase your self-confidence. Secrets are like that. Besides, it isn't every day you can use the same facial expression to irritate somebody twice.

Mikey knew this trick of Margalo's. She took a gloppy spoonful of chocolate pudding into her mouth, closed her lips firmly, and stared back at her friend while she pushed pudding out between her teeth, then sucked it back onto her tongue, then swallowed it.

Margalo counterpunched. She peeled back the skin on her banana, peeling it down carefully, strip by strip, taking each strip no more than a third of the way down at each peeling, carefully rotating the banana as she carefully, methodically, peeled it.

They played out their two-man scene to their audience of two until Mikey got bored, and broke eye contact, and groused, "Next thing, you'll be going to the dance. With a date."

Margalo knew better. "I'm not even invited to parties."

"Yeah, but neither am I, and I'm a good athlete." Then Mikey wondered, "We don't want to be invited to their parties, do we? Do you? I don't. The stuff that goes on -- "

"Definitely squalid," Margalo agreed.

Mikey and Margalo tended to agree about things. Their quarrels were mostly for style, not substance. They had them because otherwise life would be too tedious, and discouraging. From the start junior high had been bad, and this year it had only gotten worse. In eighth grade school seemed to be all about couples and love and/or sex and/or everything-in-between.

Everything-in-between covered a lot of territory. There were crushes, for one, or a girl would have a thing about a boy. Boys liked girls. Boys and girls really liked one another, or really cared for, really cared about one another. But was it love?

Mikey and Margalo had discussed it -- of course. Their level of accomplishment in love-and-sex-and-everything-in-between was the same: Never been on a date, never been kissed. It was their attitudes that differed. Mikey was mostly outraged -- What's the big deal? Who cares? Whereas Margalo projected scientific detachment -- Aren't human beings bizarre creatures? They had their different attitudes and they each liked having the differing attitudes they had, while at the same time they both agreed that nobody understood either sex or love. But wasn't it curious, as Margalo pointed out, that there was a sex-ed unit in gym, but no love-ed unit in any other class?

They also agreed that they didn't plan to be kept ignorant. As Mikey pointed out, ignorance isn't bliss, it's not knowing something. Not knowing something always put you at a disadvantage, in Mikey's opinion, and that was not where she cared to be.

But it wasn't easy to find out anything about sex, or love, or everything-in-between, especially if you weren't invited to parties. That meant you had to get your field information from secondary sources, and it was Margalo's opinion that people often avoided telling the truth, especially the whole truth and nothing but, about those subjects.

As far as they could tell, the parties seemed to be about slow dancing, close dancing, and long bouts of kissing in darkened rooms. They were about almost getting caught by parents. At the parties maybe there was beer, maybe pot, probably cigarettes, so you could learn how to drink stuff and smoke stuff, things you needed to know for high school. Maybe you'd get fallen in love with at a party -- and everybody wanted a chance to get fallen in love with -- or maybe you'd find someone really special. Mikey and Margalo collected stories about the parties, and rumors, and reports, and they considered them. "I don't believe her, do you?" Margalo would ask, while Mikey fulminated, "Catch me."

Another useful source of information was Mikey's mother, the ex-Mrs. Elsinger, once again Ms. Barcley. Margalo had elevated Ms. Barcley to an educational experience, so she kept herself current with what Mikey's mother was getting up to, at work, at play. "Did you talk to your mother this weekend?" she asked.

"I was watching the Australian Open."

This did not interest Margalo. She'd already heard her fill on that topic from Mikey. Also, it did not answer her question. "But did you talk to her?"

"She's still crazy about this new boyfriend."

"She's always crazy about them, isn't she?"

"It's just my father she couldn't be in love with," Mikey observed.

"You know, all of these boyfriends have been rich and ambitious and already successful, which your dad just isn't. If you think about them, they drive late-model cars, dress

in suits and polish their shoes. They take her to four-star restaurants, they take her away for fancy weekends -- your dad didn't do any of those things."

"I just wish she didn't make me meet them."

"Mudpies, Mikey. You're always talking about the places you eat at."

"Besides, this one's much older than she is."

Margalo stared at her friend, who was being the same person she had always been, irritable and impatient and self-confident. Who cares? about summed up Mikey, in a plaid flannel men's shirt (a new fashion low for Mikey) and her baggy cargo pants (a long-gone style, but Mikey either hadn't noticed that or -- more likely -- didn't care). Not noticing things was a big part of Mikey, especially things having to do with people. Margalo knew this about her friend, and sometimes she was really grateful for it. Like now, in the matter of this...thing that was such a big secret part of Margalo's life, ruining it and making it wonderful. After a minute of staring she told Mikey, "People can love people who are older than them," adding for safety, "or younger."

"What do you know about it?" Mikey demanded.

"More than you think," Margalo answered.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Mikey demanded.

Margalo wasn't about to answer that question. Instead, she said, "Your mother keeps having serious relationships. Do you think she's having sex with all of them? Do you think she's in love with all of them?"

"Dad hasn't had even one girlfriend," Mikey said.

"I don't think you can fall in love that often," Margalo decided.

"He's been fixed up. People saying, come for dinner to meet, come to a party to meet. But he hasn't been on a date he asked someone out on," Mikey said. "Not a date of his own."

"Not really in love," Margalo said.

"Do you think there's something wrong with him?" Mikey asked.

"I think there's something wrong with her," Margalo said.

"You know, you probably won't get the part," Mikey said. "Jennet Whoever."

"Thank you for your kind wishes."

"Get real, Margalo. Do you expect me to want you to? You know that if you're in the play, you'll be rehearsing all the time, from now until the performance. Which isn't until May."

"But you're in basketball anyway, or tennis, so why should you care?"

"Because if you're rehearsing, who'll sell our Chez ME cookies?" Last year, after the success of Mikey's cookies in the seventh-grade bake sales, Mikey and Margalo had continued baking and selling cookies. They liked being in business. Margalo welcomed the income and Mikey welcomed the work. It didn't suit Mikey's plans to have Margalo be unavailable for the spring cookie business. "And you won't be able to see my tennis matches," she added. "After I make the team. Again."

That again made them pause to smile at each other. After brief and unspoken mutual congratulations and admirations, they got back to their quarrel.

Margalo said, "I can do more than one thing at a time, you know."

"And baby-sitting jobs too? That's three things."

"I can count," Margalo said.

"I guess you're pretty confident," Mikey grumbled.

"You're the one who keeps telling me to think like a winner."

"I never said you," Mikey objected. "I meant me."

Margalo gathered up her lunch wrappers and put them into the brown paper bag. Mikey piled her dirty dishes back onto the tray. But neither one of them made a move to get up. They were in no hurry to get to an all-school assembly.

"So if you do get this part, do you have to kiss someone?"

"What is this sudden interest in kissing?" Margalo asked.

"What makes you so sure you'll be picked?" Mikey asked.

"I'm not." The only thing Margalo was sure of was that she could hear Jennet Jourdemayne's voice in her head, speaking the lines in a cool-headed, intelligent, courageous way. She hadn't even thought of trying out until Mr. Schramm told her she reminded him of Jennet Jourdemayne. Mr. Schramm had been in a production of The Lady's Not for Burning out in Oregon, he'd said; he'd played Thomas Mendip; this was before he became a family man and turned in his actor's equity card for a teaching certificate. He was glad to see that they were still reading it in schools, he told her. But didn't she have a class to get to? He wouldn't want to make Margalo late for class, he'd said, and asked, why didn't she try out for Jennet?

"What if you don't get it?" Mikey asked. "What if Ms. Larch picks someone else? Like, Rhonda," she suggested, naming one of their long-time favorite people to dislike.

Margalo had the answer. "Then I'll have more time to sell cookies, which means I'll have more money in the bank."

"Although you'll still have to do something for the play. All eighth graders do. I'm going to be an usher."

"Usherette."

"Usheress."

"In a little short, swishy skirt," Margalo said, grinning.

"I'll swish you," Mikey said.

"You'll need to style your hair, like, curl it for an updo. I'll help," Margalo offered.

Mikey's hand went up protectively to the thick braid that had finally gotten back to long enough, almost halfway down her back. "No way."

"You'll be adorable," Margalo promised -- and they both started laughing. Mikey and adorable were vocabulary words from two different languages. Two different languages spoken on two different planets.

"You should usher too," Mikey suggested.

"Ush," Margalo corrected.

"When you don't get the part. It's a minimum-stress assignment, and minimum time commitment. Unless -- would they give you one of the other parts? Is there another part for someone tall and skinny?"

"Jennet is the only part I want."

"You could play a man," Mikey suggested. This was not meant to be flattering.

"It's too bad you didn't have the nerve to try out," Margalo said.

"I thought about maybe that little priest, the one with his lute, the spacey one."

Margalo believed that the best revenge was a quick one. She said, "I guess, because he's supposed to be so short and round, you thought you'd look right."

"Also besides, I don't have time to learn lines. I'd have to miss a lot of practices and also I don't want to let the team down by not playing in a basketball game because of some rehearsal. Also, tennis begins in March, and I'm not about to miss that. So it's not that I didn't have the nerve," Mikey said, with her I-guess-I-win smile.

Margalo's attention had moved on to the new problem: If she didn't get the part, she was going to have to do something else for the play. Every student in each grade -- and every teacher, too -- had to do something for the West Junior High School annual class projects, the dance given by the seventh grade for eighth graders, and the play given by eighth graders for everyone. She was about to ask Mikey about the ushering committee, when Tanisha Harris pulled out one of the empty chairs -- there were many to choose among near Mikey and Margalo -- and sat down in it.

Tan was the only girl as serious about sports as Mikey. In grade school, when they first met her, she was serious about volleyball, but since last year she'd been serious about basketball instead. Tan had a good chance at an athletic scholarship for college, since she was a really good athlete, and smart enough, and African American. She looked at Margalo with dark, measuring eyes and said, "I've got bad news. Do you want to hear it?"

"How bad?" Margalo wondered.

"Not bad like your dog died. This is like -- a dead-goldfish level of badness," Tan said. She had always run closer to their wavelength than other people. "It's like a you'll-hate-dinner -- it's on a liver-for-dinner level."

"I don't mind liver," Mikey objected.

"OK," Margalo decided. "Tell."

"My grandmother loves it," Mikey told them.

"You know that today in assembly they're announcing who got parts in the play?" Tan asked.

Margalo nodded.

"Sautéed, with onions and red wine," Mikey said.

"I know who's going to be Jennet Jourdemayne. Sorry, but it's not you."

"Hah!" Mikey crowed. All victories welcome, that was her motto.

"Hunnh," said Margalo. She was cool, nothing surprised her, nothing got her excited, nothing could upset her or disappoint her.

"I told you so," Mikey said.

"Mikey," Tan protested.

"Well I did," Mikey maintained.

Tan grinned. "You're so bad, you're perfect."

Mikey smiled right back at her, a So-what? smile.

"How'd you find out?" Margalo wanted to know.

"The way they're announcing it, they're calling the people up onto the stage. I guess they think that'll make it more exciting for everyone, like the Oscars or something. Aimi told me. She's going to be Jennet. Ms. Larch told her yesterday so she'd be ready to be called up on stage, and Aimi was too excited not to tell someone." Tan continued, "I thought you were just as good as Aimi in tryouts. You're a good liar, so it makes sense that you'd be a good actress."

"Aimi must have been better," Mikey pointed out. "Otherwise, why would she get the part?"

"She's black." Tan made a point of not adding dummy, made such a big point that she might as well have said it out loud, which was exactly her point. "Except for that, Aimi and Margalo are built a lot alike, tall and slim, and they're both pretty enough. The only real difference I can see is Aimi's not white. So, I figure, Ms. Larch wanted someone who looked different from everybody else for Jennet, because...People in those days would single her out and believe she might be a witch because she looked different -- when they were looking for someone to blame, for a scapegoat when things went wrong."

"That's smart casting," Margalo agreed.

"Did she tell Aimi all that?" Mikey asked.

Tan just looked at her, eye sarcasm.

"Yeah, but then how do you know?" Mikey insisted. Then she said, "Wait. OK. I do get it." In case they didn't believe her, she explained. "The play's set in the Middle Ages, and the Middle Ages are a lot like junior high. The Middle Ages are the junior high of history. In both places, if you look different, or act different, people are nervous, scared of you. Get people scared of you and they'll start doing things to make themselves feel un-scared, like -- burning you at the stake. It's as simple as math: Different is scary, new is scary, change is scary -- burn, burn, burn." Each time she said burn, Mikey pointed at Margalo or Tan, as if she was sentencing somebody to be tied to a stake and roasted alive. "I'll tell you what scares me," she said, as if either Margalo or Tanisha had asked. "People."

"The Salem witch trials weren't during the Middle Ages," Margalo pointed out.

Mikey ignored her. "By 'they' I mean mostly men," she said. "Because women couldn't do much of anything back then. Well, they could, and some of them did. Joan of Arc, for example, and look what happened to her because she acted different from other people, and looked different, especially dressed different. Things haven't really changed at all since then, have they?"

Margalo considered deflating this R&R, which was what her mother called it when Mikey got going on some topic, because it was the opposite of Rest and Recreation. With Mikey, Aurora maintained, R&R stood for Rant and Rave. Margalo was about to advise Mikey to put a lid on it, when Frannie Arenberg, who'd stopped on her way out of the cafeteria to listen, did it for her. "I think the human race has made some good progress since the Middle Ages," Frannie said.

"Yeah, but you also think Louis Caselli isn't so bad," Mikey pointed out.

"That's because Louis has a giant crush on her," Tan said.

Frannie never minded being teased, not about her plain, Quaker style of dressing, not about her reputation as the nicest person in school, not even about Louis Caselli's crush. She said, "I feel sorry for Louis."

"Louis has the brains of a mushroom," Mikey agreed. "We have to forgive him. At least," she added, "the rest of you have to. I don't think I will."

"Besides, as we all know, Louis is no competition for..." Margalo lingered on the silence before she uttered the name in a breathless, sighing voice, "Gregory Peck." Frannie's crush on Gregory Peck had begun when they'd been shown the movie of To Kill a Mockingbird last year. She didn't care if he was old enough to be her grandfather -- or great-grandfather by now; and Margalo did agree that he was incredibly handsome. But there was old, and there was way old, and Gregory Peck was definitely in the second category.

As soon as Margalo mentioned the one, Mikey leaned toward Tanisha to murmur the name of the other: "Tiger Woods." In eighth grade you wanted to be half of a couple, so if they didn't have a personal boyfriend, girls could get crushes on celebrities. The important thing was to have a name linked to yours. Almost all eighth graders were linked to someone. Not Mikey, and not Margalo, and there were a few others, too, although not many. Casey Wolsowski was one of these -- unless you counted linking your name up to the hero of some book, which most people didn't. This far into the year everybody knew about Frannie's crush and Tanisha's ideal man, so they got teased a lot.

Frannie and Tan looked at each other. "Their time will come," Tanisha promised.

"In your dreams," Mikey answered, and Margalo let Mikey speak for her in this, as if she and Mikey were in exactly the same position, untouched, and untouchable.

"Anyway, I'm not about to waste time and erasers on a notebook," Mikey declared. Eighth-grade girls erased their boyfriends' initials onto the fronts of their spiral notebooks. It was practically an eighth-grade art form, initialing anything you could get an eraser on. "Haven't you seen Ronnie's notebooks, with Doug's name all over them? And Rhonda -- it's pitiful. She's pitiful. She always was, but this year she's reached new levels of pitifulness. Or Heather McGinty, the way she drools around after whoever scored highest in the last game, whoever everybody's talking about. Acting like she's some movie-star irresistible sex goddess, hinting about how hot she is." Mikey concluded this R&R, "The whole thing's -- it's really embarrassing, and Heather's not even embarrassed."

Then she grinned. "I'm enjoying eighth grade."

Then she glared at Frannie. "What's so funny?"

Frannie stood up, shaking her head. "I have to get an aisle seat for the assembly," she apologized, "because I got a part."

"Which one?" Margalo asked, making a silent guess, The mother.

"The mother," Frannie said.

"Typecasting," Mikey announced.

"No it isn't," Margalo said. "The mother isn't -- "

Mikey held up both hands, palms out like a policeman facing traffic, Stop. "Leave me something to be surprised at, why don't you? Who else got parts?" she asked Frannie.

"I thought you wanted to be surprised. Anyway, we're not supposed to tell," she added, leaving.

"Are you trying to get rid of the few friends you have?" Tan asked Mikey.

"What did I do to you? I just said his name, just Tiger. Ti-ger, Ti-ger." Mikey ducked out of Tanisha's reach. "I didn't say anything about, That's a weird name, or, How dumb is it to think you're in love with some sports hero who never even heard of you and never will."

"No different from a movie star or a rock star," Tanisha maintained.

But Margalo disagreed. "Tiger Woods is a whole different story from Tyrese." Then she was diverted. "Denzel Washington. I could go for Denzel Washington."

"Or Will Smith," Tanisha agreed.

Mikey groaned. They ignored her.

Margalo didn't remember when it had become fun to make lists of handsome guys, fun just to think about who should be on the list; but she didn't deny that she enjoyed it. It was more interesting than listing all the boys in your class, ranked in order of who you'd like to kiss, or go on a date with, or marry, which one you'd most want to be marooned on a desert island with, or -- this was the currently popular list -- dance with, or slow dance with or super slow dance with, which were all the same unspoken question: Who do you want to go to the dance with? If every boy was going to ask you, who would you choose?

As some art-room kids passed by, Cassie Davis -- front-runner for the title of eighth grader with the worst attitude -- stopped to ask Mikey, "You coming to assembly? Or what?"

"Is there an or what choice?" Mikey asked, then "I'm not joking," she protested.

"I know," Cassie said. "That's what makes you so funny."

"I'm not funny," Mikey told her.

"I'll save you a seat," Cassie said, passing on by.

"Why does she think because we're in the same homeroom, she should save me a seat?" Mikey demanded.

"She doesn't mean it," Margalo explained. "She won't do it."

"Then why does she say she's going to? People," Mikey said, disgusted.

Being disgusted with people reminded her of something else. "What committee are you going to be on for the play?" she asked Tan.

Tan was rising, and it really was time to start over to the auditorium. She said, "Promotion -- you know, getting advertisers for the programs, finding stores that'll let us put up posters. The committee only meets during lunches, and we can sign up the advertisers and ask at stores during the weekends. It's Mrs. Sanabria's committee so you know it's not going to interfere with the basketball schedule," she said as she joined up with Ronnie Caselli and others from the team.

Watching the cafeteria get empty, Mikey looked at Margalo and smiled, a grim Let's-look-for-a-bright-side smile. "The sooner it starts, the sooner it'll be over."

Like someone about to step into the dentist's office, Margalo tucked her straight, chin-length hair behind her ears and squared her shoulders. "If you say so." She rose from her seat.

Slowly, reluctantly, they got going, drifting out of the cafeteria, drifting down the hallways, drifting into the auditorium, just two jellyfish riding along on tidal waters.

Copyright © 2002 by Cynthia Voigt

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