Read an Excerpt
ON THE MORNING SCHOOL BUS
Sunglasses! Did I remember to bring sunglasses?
I opened my tote bag and scrounged around looking for them. I felt my brush and mirror. My cotton-candy-flavored lip gloss. A chocolate-chip granola bar for after school.
And, phew, my sunglasses. I pulled out the pair of huge, round, white plastic sunglasses from my bag. I was going to need them after school for Drama Club. We were each supposed to bring a prop to fit the scene. My group was going to act out a scene on the beach, so I thought sunglasses would be perfect.
Plus they were cute. I slid my sunglasses on and chilled, just looking out the window of the school bus. My sunglasses made it a little more challenging to see, but there really wasn’t much to look at anyway: the usual houses, trees, people waiting for the bus. Definitely not as exciting as the bus I had been on earlier this week. That bus was a double-decker bus. In New York City!
Yes! I went to New York City with the Drama Club. We went to see our drama teacher’s friend who was producing an almost-on-Broadway show. It was amazing! We went on the double-decker bus and toured the city. We also went to a giant toy store, stayed in a cool hotel room, and swam in the hotel pool.
And if that wasn’t amazing enough . . .
We got to go onstage in the off-Broadway show! It was almost like we were Broadway stars!!!
Oh, and by we, I mean me and my sister, Emma. My twin sister. Emma and I look pretty much exactly alike.
I’m Payton, the twin who:
–is one inch taller
–has slightly greener eyes
–is dressed quite fashionably in her black T-shirt with the word “Broadway” across it in glitter, skinny jeans, and tall boots and is sitting in the back of the bus, where it’s coolest to sit because it’s bumpy. (And farthest away from the bus driver, of course.)
Emma has the opposite opinion about where to sit on the bus. Emma always sits in the front seat for everything—buses, classes, and even the front seat of the car. She always wants to be up front and first for everything.
I’m the twin who likes to chill in the back. Unless there’s a stage involved. Then I want to be front and center. Yes, I love acting. I love being in Drama Club at school and in school plays. And when my parents let me do two clubs, I could be on camera for VOGS club. VOGS is the school’s video news show.
My parents made me stop doing VOGS, though, because I bombed a test and a quiz in English. Sigh. My parents told me I had to choose between Drama Club and VOGS until I could get my grades back up. I chose drama, but I also want to be in VOGS. I loved being on the school news show and had turned out to be kind of good at being on TV. My English teacher, Mrs. Burkle, was also my drama teacher, so I was hoping to extra-impress her at Drama Club today. It couldn’t hurt!
I pictured it now.
“Payton, your acting is so fabulous that I will also give you extra credit in English class!” Mrs. Burkle would say. “A++!”
Okay, unlikely, I know. But at least I still got to be in Drama Club.
Emma wasn’t in the Drama Club or VOGS club. But somehow she kept getting sucked into performing onstage and on-screen–usually pretending to be me. It had happened our very first week of school. It had happened in our school play. And it had happened on our trip to New York City.
This last twin switch was pretty epic, not only because we were on an almost-Broadway stage. We also got to get back at this girl Ashlynn who was trying to humiliate us and our classmates on our school trip.
I had been surprised to see Ashlynn. She lived in NYC, so I hadn’t seen her since she tortured me at summer camp last year. Ashlynn had pretty much turned me into her slave, making me clean things in exchange for her hand-me-down clothes. At the time I’d thought it was worth it so I could look cool in middle school. Let’s just say it didn’t work out as planned.
But we prevailed in New York City, and now Ashlynn would never bother me again—muah-ha-ha!
“Why are you making those weird cackling sounds?” A girl who had just boarded the bus stopped in the aisle and looked at me. Oh. It was Sydney. She wasn’t as bad as Ashlynn, but let’s just say she’s not my biggest fan.
During the first week of middle school I’d thought Sydney would be the cool kind of friend to have. She was already the center of attention, had great clothes, and seemed to know all the cutest guys. Instead, she’d turned out to be a major mean girl. Especially to me. She turned on me after an incident where I’d tripped at lunch and my burrito went flying and oozed all over people.
Anyway, Sydney usually didn’t ride my bus. I hoped she hadn’t moved to my neighborhood and would be riding my bus permanently.
“Move,” she commanded two kids who were sitting in a back seat across the aisle from me. Because she was Sydney, they obeyed and scrambled out to sit somewhere else. Sydney slid into the seat and stretched her legs out, putting her feet (in cute olive espadrilles) across the seat so nobody would sit there.
“Well, hi, Payton,” Sydney said. Hmm. Sydney and I had become temporary allies versus Ashlynn in New York City. So maybe things had changed for the better.
I cautiously said hi back.
“Those kids thought they were cool enough for the back seats. Pfft, I don’t think so,” Sydney scoffed. “But apparently, Payton, you think you are. And you think you’re so cool that you even wear sunglasses on the bus.”
Things had not changed for the better. I reached up to take my sunglasses off but realized that she’d know I cared what she said. And I didn’t. La la la, ignore. I kept my sunglasses on. I did, however, tell myself not to make that cackling sound again. I dropped my hands and pretended to be busy looking for something important in my bag. Yes, very important.
“Are you wearing sunglasses because you think you’re a major star now?”
Sydney kept going. “A glamorous off-Broadway star?”
La la la, not bothering me at all.
“Or,” Sydney kept going, “are you wearing sunglasses so people won’t recognize you? After you and your twin totally embarrassed yourselves on school TV when you got in that huge fight, I don’t blame you for trying to hide.”
Oh, ugh. That was weeks ago! I was hoping everyone had forgotten about that disaster. Emma and I had started our middle school careers as the twins who had switched places, fooled everyone until they were busted, and been filmed on school television making complete idiots of themselves.
But that was supposed to be totally in the past. And I wanted to keep it that way. So I changed the subject. And if there was one topic of conversation that could distract Sydney, it was . . . Sydney.
“Sydney, why are you on my bus?” I asked her.
Sydney’s face lit up.
“I slept over at my aunt and uncle’s house,” she said. “For a seriously exciting reason. A seriously exciting secret reason.”
I didn’t say anything.
“But if you want to know”—Sydney leaned over— “I’ll give you a clue.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t need to know.”
I shrugged and went back to fake-searching my tote bag. I’d gotten much better at learning how to handle Sydney. If there was something Sydney hated, it was being ignored. I leaned back in my seat so she would know that I really didn’t want to know about her excitingly secret secrets. (Although I was curious.) (But so not worth it.)
“Payton?” Sydney gave me her squinty look. “Payton?”
Ignoring you, Sydney. Doo dee doo.
“Payton? Why is your twin sister waving her arms around freakishly?” Sydney was no longer looking at me but toward the front of the bus.
Sydney knew just how to get me to un-ignore her.
I leaned forward and looked up the aisle. Sure enough, I could see the top of my sister’s head, and her hands waving wildly around above the seat. Oh no, what was she doing? I thought about ignoring her but I noticed people were also leaning forward to look at her. I pulled out my cell phone and texted.
E! Chill. Hands down.
No response. I could still see Emma’s hands waving around in the air for some unknown reason. Sigh. She didn’t realize it, I was sure, but she was embarrassing herself. And not just herself—us. Here was one of the major problems with being an identical twin: People didn’t always know who was who. That meant people could be thinking that it was me in the front seat. Me, Payton, waving my hands wildly around and making a scene.
She must be stopped.
I fastened up my tote bag and left it on the seat so nobody would try to snag my back seat. I couldn’t let Sydney rule my bus entirely. I did my best to ignore her as I slid out and walked up the aisle.
There went Emma’s hands, waving. I could hear people cracking up as I walked up the aisle. I picked up my pace to stop her as soon as possible. However, I’d forgotten I was still wearing sunglasses, which meant I couldn’t see very well. For example, I didn’t see some-body’s violin case sticking slightly out into the aisle until I tripped over it. I stumbled forward just as the bus lurched into a left turn.
Ack! I grabbed on to the closest seat back and accidentally yanked somebody’s ponytail.
“Ouch!” The ponytail owner yelped. Loudly. Unfortunately, that meant pretty much everybody on the bus looked away from Emma’s hands and saw me trip and stumble my way up the aisle, out of control. And anybody who hadn’t looked yet definitely did when the bus driver yelled at me.
“You! In the sunglasses! Sit down while the bus is moving!”
I felt my face turn bright red. I quickly sat down on the edge of an empty seat and waited until the bus became more stable. Then I ducked down and half-crawled up the aisle toward my sister, trying to stay under the bus driver’s radar.
I slid into the seat next to Emma, which was open because the only other person I knew who liked to sit in the front seat for everything was Jazmine James. And her mother drove her to school every day.
“Why hello, Payton,” Emma said calmly, her hands now in her lap like a normal person’s. “What are you doing up here in the front of the bus?”
“I’m here to ask you to stop waving your hands wildly,” I whispered. “The whole bus can see you and it’s embarrassing.”
“More or less embarrassing than stumbling up the aisle, yanking somebody’s hair, and getting yelled at by Morris, the bus driver?” Emma peered at me. “While wearing oversize sunglasses on a bleak day?”
Agh! I slumped back on the seat in defeat. “I was hoping you didn’t notice my approach,” I said.
“Of course I saw it. I see everything on this bus,” Emma said. She pointed to a large mirror that was attached to the back of the bus driver’s seat. “I convinced Morris to angle an additional mirror so that I can monitor the goings-on of my fellow bus mates. This way I can alert him to any shenanigans.”
“Are you serious?” I asked her.
“Oh, she’s very serious,” the bus driver chimed in.
“Oh, Morris, does this mean I can speak now?” Emma called up to the driver.
“No,” Morris replied.
Emma saluted him and made a “zip up her lips” motion.
What the heck?
“I’m no longer allowed to speak to Morris when the bus is moving,” Emma explained. “I had been trying to help him out by telling him about shortcuts he could take. I also alerted him when he was waiting too long for a student, which might put him behind schedule. And I told him when people behind us were causing distractions.”
“She was very distracting,” Morris grumbled.
Emma sighed. “So we made a deal that I could stay in the front seat if I didn’t talk to him without him calling on me first. I came up with the idea to wave to him to alert him when I have valuable information to share.”
The bus turned into a neighborhood as Emma continued speaking.
“So I’m honing my nonverbal skills in the process. Did you know that spoken language is less than one-third of our communication? Most of our feelings and intentions are sent through body language.” Emma waved her arms wildly, I guess to demonstrate. “Or hand gestures.” She gave me a thumbs-up. “And facial expressions. For example, I’m copying your facial expression right now, Payton. It’s a cross between a scowl and a look of frustration. Thus, I’m inferring that you are irritated by something.”
“Or someone.” I sighed. Morris the bus driver sighed too.
Morris probably ignored Emma half the time, like Dad did when Emma sat in the front seat and tried to tell him more effective driving methods. Emma likes to point out when things could be done better. Yes, it could be annoying. But I had to admit, she was almost always right.
The bus slowed down and pulled up to a bus stop. A bunch of kids got on the bus.
“Okay, I get it,” I told Emma. “But can you not wave your hands so very wildly? It looks pretty spazzy and we can even see you all the way in the back. People might think you’re me.”
I hoped she would get the hint that she was embarrassing us.
“And, Payton,” Emma said, “would you mind following the bus safety rules by not walking while the bus is in motion? People might think you are me breaking a rule. That would be so embarrassing.”
I groaned. I couldn’t win.
“And speaking of spazzy,” Emma continued, “people are still talking about you stumbling down the aisle.”
“How do you know that?” I asked her.
“I can see them in the rearview mirror.” Emma pointed. “As you know, I’ve been practicing reading lips. That girl with the slate-gray stylishly tied scarf just said something about how you’re wearing sunglasses on the bus like you’re a TV star. And then she laughed, remembering how we got into that fight the first week on school TV.”
I groaned again. This was not going as planned.
“I’m going back to my seat,” I said.
“If you need to tell me anything else,” Emma said, “just wave your hands wildly from your seat and get my attention. Then mouth it. I need more practice reading lips.”
“Can’t you just use twin telepathy?” I tried one last-ditch effort. “Practice reading my mind instead?”
“Payton, shh. You’re not supposed to be talking to me out loud, remember?” Emma replied. Then she mouthed something at me that I completely didn’t understand.
I felt defeated as I slid my sunglasses off and waited for the bus to stop so I could go back to my seat. The bus slowed down and pulled to a stop and the doors whooshed open. I stood up and started walking to the back. But not before I saw Emma’s hand go up and wave.
“Yes, Emma?” I heard Morris say.
“You don’t have to wait for him,” Emma replied. “He’s a minute late and you’re already two minutes behind schedule.”
I looked out the window to see a boy in my Drama Club, Sam, running madly to catch the bus. I turned back to Emma.
“Sam is carrying a prop for our Drama Club skit,” I said to Emma. “It’s slowing him down. Give him a break.”
Sam was carrying a beach chair that was big and awkward. I was glad I had only brought sunglasses. I waited at the front to make sure Emma couldn’t convince the driver to leave him.
“Made it!” Sam said, huffing and puffing as he climbed up the steps.
“An extra one minute and twelve seconds delay,” Emma said, shaking her head.
I sighed as I stood up and followed Sam down the aisle. It was slow going, as he banged into people with the beach chair as he passed by.
“Can I go ahead of you?” I asked him. “I already got yelled at by the driver once for being in the aisle.”
“Sure!” Sam said cheerfully, and as he stood to the side he knocked another person on the side of the head.
“Sorry,” I told them. “Sorry!”
I was relieved to slide into my back seat without stumbling or pulling anyone’s hair myself.
“Are you okay?” Sydney asked. “I saw you falling all over the place.”
Ugh. I had forgotten all about Sydney being on my bus. I slid my sunglasses back on so I could ignore her.
“Did you bruise anything?” she continued in a voice of mock concern. “Or just your ego?”
A few seconds later I had a brief moment of happy karma when Sam made his way to the back and tried to sit with Sydney. When she told him the seat was saved, he got up and the beach chair accidentally knocked her on the side of the head.
“Can I sit with you?” Sam asked me.
“Sure,” I said, and moved my tote bag. Sam tried to wedge himself and the beach chair into the seat. It was a tight fit.
“Sorry to squish you,” Sam apologized.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Well, if you could get the top of the chair out of my stomach it will be okay.”
“Sorry.” Sam shifted the chair. “This bus is lame. It would be cool if we could have a huge double-decker bus like we went on in New York City.”
“I know! That bus was cool,” I said. Emma and I had sat on the top out in the open air.
Speaking of Emma, my cell went off. Emma was texting me.
Look up and say something. I angled the mirror 76 degrees so I can read your lips perfectly.
I shook my head, my lips tightly closed.
Shaking head doesn’t count! Say something! I want to prove to u my mad lip-reading skillz.
I mouthed: You are bizarre.
You said “You are star!”-Twin-kle twin-kle little star 2 u!
Sigh. I started to slide my phone back into my bag. Brzzzzt. Bzzzt.
What now? I pulled up her text and read it.
But you may want to take off your sunglasses. They’re kind of embarrassing.
Ag. I gave up.