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Madison looked over at Hart's buzz cut. The locks of brown hair that usually fell across his forehead were gone.
"The barber had some kind of meltdown," Hart explained. "I asked him to cut it short and he came at me with the trimmer like he was whacking weeds."
"Well," Madison said with a wide smile, "it looks kind of ... well ... cute."
Hart blushed. "Nah, it looks freaky, and you're just being nice, Finnster. You're always being too nice."
"Am not," Madison said. She pulled her sweater around her body and looked in the other direction, trying hard not to giggle.
Hart blew on his hands and then ran his fingers through the tangle of hair on top. He made another face.
"I've only been outside for a minute but my hands are like ice," he said. "What's up with that?"
Hart had on his red hockey shirt with the white Far Hills Junior High logo on the front and the number nine on the back. Underneath that, he wore a white turtleneck to keep warm. But it wasn't working very well.
The wind whipped around Madison and Hart. Instead of complaining, Madison just smiled again, pleased with herself—and with the situation. She and Hart were definitely flirting, right out there in the open, only a few yards from the school entrance. And that was a major step in their relationship.
A loud throng of kids pushed through the front doors of FHJH. Even though the temperature had dropped, most kids were only half dressed, dragging parkas and hockey sticks and skates behind them. The sports teams all had away games that afternoon, or at least Hart and Madison thought they did.
"Egg!" Hart yelled.
Madison saw their mutual pal, Walter "Egg" Diaz, running down the steps two at a time. Behind Egg were Drew Maxwell and Chet Waters, two other friends and members of the FHJH Junior Varsity Hockey Squad. Behind the boys were Fiona Waters (Chet's twin sister) and Aimee Gillespie, Madison's two best girlfriends.
"The game at Da Vinci was canceled," Egg said breathlessly.
"No way," Hart said. "But the buses are right here. They've been here for ten minutes."
"They had a problem at their rink. Power went down late yesterday, I guess. They tried to fix it, but basically, it's a swimming pool, and the gym is flooded," Egg said.
"Bummer, right?" Chet said.
Drew shook his head. "This stinks. I know we could cream those guys. Their team is so lame on offense."
"Why didn't they just play here instead?" Madison asked.
"Good question!" Hart said.
"Hey—if there's no away game, then what are those buses?" Fiona asked, pointing to two large buses parked on the side of the school parking lot.
Everyone spun around to survey the buses more closely. Madison saw the wordsMR. MOTION PICTURES painted across the side panel. She hadn't noticed that before. The name was strangely familiar, but she couldn't remember....
"That must be the film crew Principal Bernard was talking about," Drew said.
"Film crew?" Madison asked aloud.
"What? Are they here to film the hockey game?" Hart asked.
"Nah," Drew continued. "I bet it's the film crew for the documentary. Principal Bernard posted a notice by the lockers a little while ago."
"What documentary? What notice?" Madison asked.
"We each got one in our locker, too, like some kind of permission slip," Drew said.
"Oh, yeah, I saw that," Aimee said.
"You did?" Madison asked.
"Duh, Maddie," Chet said as he held up a flyer with the words OUR SCHOOL ON CAMERA! DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS AT FHJH printed at the top.
"D—d—documentary?" Madison repeated. She shook her head from side to side as if that could get rid of the sinking feeling she had in the very pit of her stomach.
"What's wrong with you, Maddie?" Fiona asked.
All weekend, Mom had talked about a film on which she was about to begin work. Mom and her team at Budge Films had partnered with another, smaller documentary film group and its director to produce a feature on middle-school life in the twenty-first century. One of the schools selected for the feature just happened to be Rigby Middle School, located a few towns away. Madison had been relieved to hear that the filming would take place somewhere far away from her middle-school life.
"So ... you think they're doing auditions for a movie or something?" Chet asked aloud.
Fiona laughed. "You wish. Not like they'd ever choose you for a part."
Everyone laughed as Chet gave Fiona a hard nudge that nearly knocked her over.
But Madison didn't feel like laughing. Her brain was racing. These buses and this film crew had to have something to do with Mom. It was all way too much to be just a coincidence.
"Maddie, your face is all red. Are you okay?" Aimee asked, grabbing her friend by the shoulders.
Madison just mumbled. "Um ... I don't know ... I can't believe ..."
"She's lost it," Egg said as he and the other guys walked away toward the buses. Hart approached one and slapped the side of the door, but no one opened up. Chet jumped up to get a view inside one of the tinted windows.
"I don't see any cameras," Chet cried.
"What a moron," Fiona grumbled.
Aimee chuckled. "Maybe it's a reality TV film crew...."
"Don't say that!" Fiona said, looking over her shoulder. "Can you imagine? They'd come into the school and make us walk on tightropes and eat worm eggs or something."
"Worms don't lay eggs," Chet snapped.
Fiona smacked him on the back. "Oh, I forgot. You're the expert, aren't you, worm?"
Madison glanced around. From out of the corner of her eye, she saw a cluster of people coming around the opposite side of the school. Her sinking feeling grew stronger and stronger ... like heartburn and a stomachache and butterflies all rolled into one.
It was the film crew; they lugged video cameras, light stands, and sound equipment. One man carried a large clipboard. He wore dark, square sunglasses (even though it wasn't particularly sunny outside), a polka-dot tie, a navy jacket, and blue jeans that looked as if they'd been ironed.
"Look! There are the cameras!" Fiona said.
"Maddie ... does this have anything to do with your mom?" Aimee said with a grin.
"Why did you say that?" Madison asked. She rolled her eyes. "Please don't go there."
"Maddie," Aimee said. "Come on. Spill it. You know something."
"Well, I think maybe they have something to do with this documentary my mom is making...." Madison said.
"Cool!" Aimee blurted.
"A documentary? About us?" Fiona squealed.
Having spied the film crew heading in to the school, Egg, Chet, and the others rushed back over toward Madison and her friends.
"Let me at 'em! I'm ready for my close-up!" Chet cried.
"You wish!" Egg said.
Hart and Dan laughed.
Fiona went over and smacked Chet on the back again. "Watch out. You get too close up and you'll break the cameras."
Although everyone desperately wanted to follow (and spy on) the film crew, it was getting late and after-school activities had already gotten under way. The match at Da Vinci had been canceled, but the team was due for a meeting with the coach in the locker room. Fiona had soccer practice. Aimee had dance class. Madison was the only one without any major after-school commitment. That left her heading home alone. Her friends agreed to e-mail one another later that night.
The walk back home to Blueberry Street took less time than usual. It was as if Madison had little motors on her sneakers. As she walked up on to the porch, Madison heard her pug, Phin, inside, barking. She opened the door, and Phin practically leaped into her arms, scratchy little nails and all. Madison kissed him on the head and then put him down on the hall floor.
"Mom? Mom! Are you home?" Madison called out. "Mom, I need to talk to you ... right now."
"Hey, honey bear. What's all the fuss?" Mom asked, appearing in the doorway to her office, a room located just off the entry hall and living room.
"Mom, you said you'd be filming at Rigby tomorrow," Madison said.
"Oh, yes," Mom said. "The plan changed."
"What?" Madison threw up her hands.
"We'll be shooting the interviews at Far Hills now."
"You're kidding, right?" Madison cried.
"No," Mom said. "Look, Maddie, you rushed right out of here this morning to meet up with Aimee and ..."
"Mo-o-o-o-o-om!" Madison groaned.
"The other middle school's shooting schedule fell through, and we were in a pinch, so I phoned Far Hills. Right away they said we could use the school. Principal Bernard was very gracious. He said that we could stay for a week or more, as long as we didn't disrupt classes too much. He gave us permission to interview willing members of the student body—"
"My student body?" Madison asked. She paused dramatically. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"But it's so perfect!" Mom said. "For one thing, your school is an ideal location for the filming. You have bright classrooms and a terrific library for a backdrop. And the outside yard is just right...."
"Just right for what?" Madison asked. She collapsed onto the couch, her head in her hands. "Just right for embarrassing me more than anything else in my life?"
"Embarrassing you? I don't understand," Mom said.
"Of course you don't," Madison said sharply.
"Maddie, don't take that tone with me."
Madison bit her lip. "How could you have chosen my school as a backup site for your project?" she asked, trying to sound more disappointed than annoyed. "Why didn't you ask me first?"
"I have to ask your permission?" Mom asked.
"Well ..." Madison stammered. "Yes. It is my school."
"Maddie," Mom explained. "This really doesn't have to be a big deal. The crew will only be there for a week or so."
"Will you be there?"
"Not much. I've got paperwork and other tasks to occupy my time. I'll only be there to check in, once in a blue moon—"
"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" Madison wailed. "You're not leveling with me, are you, Mom? You always show up at your shoots. I know you'll be there all the time, and so will I, and it will just be ..."
"No, really, this one is different, Maddie," Mom said. "As far as I know, I won't be as involved. It's the director's show, not mine."
"I guarantee that with you in school every day, this movie will become the most mortifying experience of my life," Madison insisted.
Mom got very, very quiet.
"I didn't know you would feel this way, Maddie," Mom said, sounding contrite. "But I promise I won't get in your way."
Phin jumped on to the sofa, tongue wagging. He licked Madison as if he were playing some kind of game. But Madison was not playing any game.
"It's all over," Madison said.
"Really, Maddie. You don't have to be so dramatic about all this," Mom said, reaching out to touch Madison's shoulder.
"Oh, Mom," Madison cried. She pulled away in a huff. Madison's breath came in fits and starts, and she closed her eyes tightly to force herself to slow down. She couldn't let herself hyperventilate.
In her mind, Madison had whirling visions of being chased by—and running away from—a camera crew. Mom was out in front with the huge, Day-Glo spotlights. And when she wasn't being hounded by the lights and the soundmen, she was dodging the lenses of miniature cameras that appeared inside her locker, inside the bathroom stalls, and everywhere else she went.
How could Madison possibly endure the presence of a film crew at her school, filming her and her friends and her longtime crush? And worst of all, how could she endure a film crew led by her own mother?
She looked at her mother and then exploded with a rush of emotion. "Mom, this is like my worst nightmare come to life! You know I have stage fright! You know I can't do this!"
Mom stood there, flabbergasted. She tried to apologize, but Madison wasn't listening. When it came to Budge Films and Mom's job, Madison didn't want to listen to anything Mom had to say.
For the past few years, Mom's film job had caused conflict between the two of them. Of course, Madison had been proud of Mom's awards and other successes. But deep down, Madison also believed that Mom's constant work and travel had brought on the Big D. The way Madison saw it, talk of divorce had only started when Mom had started to become more successful as a film producer. Madison loved knowing that her mom was a mover and shaker at Budge Films, but she hated the times when there wasn't enough of Mom to go around.
"Are you even listening to me?" Mom asked. Madison had turned on the mute button, and Mom knew it.
"I'm out of here," Madison blurted out. She nearly knocked Phin off the sofa as she grabbed her bag and headed upstairs to her room.
Mom quickly tried to make peace by hugging her, but Madison slipped by, refusing. Phin followed close behind.
Once inside her bedroom, Madison settled back on to the assortment of colored cotton pillows and took Phin into her arms for a little doggy comfort. But after a few seconds, he got squirmy and wriggled loose from her grip. That was when Madison flipped over, pulled out her laptop, and booted up.
"Maddie! Someone's at the door for you!" Mom called out.
Madison crept out to the top of the stairs. Aimee stood there, looking up with a smirk on her face and a large bag slung over her shoulder.
"Up here, Aim," Madison called out.
"Thanks, Mrs. Finn," Aimee said. She turned away from Mom and rushed up the stairs.
"What are you doing here?" Madison asked.
"Well, I should totally be home doing my math homework right now, Maddie," Aimee said. "But when I was on my way back from dance class, I got the funniest idea, and I knew I just had to come over to your place."
"Funny?" Madison grinned with relief. "What?" she asked. "Please tell me. I need a good laugh."
Aimee reached inside the tote bag she had on her shoulder and produced a shiny new tablet.
"Is that what I think it is? Aim, are you kidding?" Madison asked.
"Nope," Aimee said, grinning. She held it up in front of Madison's face. "Dad said I could borrow it and he downloaded this Film Star app for us, too! We better rehearse our poses before the real film crew gets involved. Practice makes perfect, right?"
"Perfect is overrated," Madison said, holding her hands up in front of the tablet camera so Aimee couldn't film her.
"Come on, Maddie," Aimee gushed. "Don't be such a spoilsport. Smile for the camera. Pucker up and pretend I'm Hart Jones."
"Hey!" Madison squealed. She looked away. "You're so mean!"
Aimee gazed at the screen. "But you are soooo beautiful. Be a movie star, Maddie! Come on. At least pretend."
"Ugh," Madison groaned. "I don't feel like it."
Madison knew Aimee meant well, and she wanted to have a good laugh, but at the same time, she was still dealing with her anger at Mom. Smiling for the camera felt wrong right now.
Aimee tapped the video button anyway, undeterred by Madison's grumpy demeanor. She turned the camera toward Phinnie instead of Madison. The pug pranced around—a real ham—as if he knew he was being filmed. He planted his backside on the carpet, scratched at it with his nails, and let out a howl.
Aimee cracked up. She fiddled with the settings so Phin morphed into a super-sized pug and then so there were ten Phins instead of one. The Film Star app had all sorts of cool tricks. "Way to go, Phin! At least you know how to smile for the camera."
"Aim ...," Madison whined. "Fine! I'll do it. What do I do?"
"Pretend I'm Hart. Now, go!"
"Mmmwah! Smooch! Is that what you want?" Madison stuck out her tongue.
"Oh, Maddie," Aimee clicked the camera off. "You will never win an Academy Award for that," she joked.
Madison shook her head and sighed. She didn't want to win any awards. The only thing Madison Francesca Finn wanted was to get as far away from cameras, Mom, and FHJH as possible.
If only she had somewhere to run.
Excerpted from Forget Me Not by Laura Dower. Copyright © 2005 Laura Dower. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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