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My name is Peter Paddington. I just started 8th grade at Clarkedale Elementary School. Six days a week, I deliver the Bluewater Observer and the other day, my nipples popped out.
I've always had boobs, but not girl-boobs. More like the "I need to lose weight" kind. I'm not thrilled about them, but they're pretty easy to hide under my sweatshirts, and it's not like I ever jog or anything, so they stay in place. Besides, I know I won't have them for much longer because I'm planning to start my diet any day and be thin and normal by Christmas.
I know that I've got my work cut out for me, because there are lots of things about me that need fixing. For starters, I'm big-boned, which is a nicer way of saying "All my pants have elasticized waistbands." When I stick my finger into my belly button, it goes just past my second knuckle. That's my own test to see if I've gained weight or not. Last year, my stomach only went to my first knuckle, so I've put on a knuckle's worth of weight this year.
There are plenty of other things wrong with my body. Last year, I started growing hair on my legs and in my armpits, which was pretty disturbing. I was already having a hard enough time getting over the new hairs around my dink. Before that, I had peach fuzz, which I didn't mind at all because it was soft and blond, like the hairs inside a corn husk. But then it turned brown and curly and now the hair looks like the stuff that comes out of the tops of corn husks, all dried up and burnt by the sun. I thought about shaving my dink hair off once, but then I read somewhere that if you shave a part of your body, the hair grows back thicker and bushier. And then you're really in a pickle, because even though you're shaving like crazy, the hair will keep coming back like an angry weed until one day, you can't even see your dink anymore. That's how hairy you'll be.
The hair on my legs is softer than the hair around my dink, but it still grosses me out. I wish my legs were bare and tanned, like James MacDonnell's. He's adopted and sits two rows over from me. He has a tan the whole year through, even in the wintertime. He must be Mexican. Or maybe Greek. James came to school the other day wearing a pair of navy blue short shorts and I couldn't stop looking down at his legs. I had to be careful that I didn't get caught, especially by Brian Cinder. He sits behind James. So I pretended to study the patterns in the linoleum tiles. Was that a cow I saw? And over there, wasn't that the face of Jesus? I chewed my lower lip to look really convincing.
Anyways, I couldn't stop thinking about James' legs and I was so jealous of them. There he was in his tube socks and short shorts, not even thinking twice about what people thought of his legs. I haven't worn a pair of shorts since 6th grade, mainly because I don't want to gross anyone out. Maybe my legs wouldn't look so bad if they were tanned like James' legs, but then, how are they ever going to get tanned if I never wear shorts? And since I never wear shorts, my legs have pimples on them from rubbing against my pant legs all summer long. So my legs have three strikes against them.
The only other boy in my class with hairy legs is Andy Dover, but he's pretty hairy all over. He's the tallest student in our class, too. Even taller than Mr. Mitchell, our teacher. I wonder if Andy is really thirteen, because he looks older. Sometimes, I think that Andy is a spy investigating our school. Maybe he's a secret agent and has to prove that the chocolate bar money we raised last year wasn't for new curtains for the stage. Instead, the money went to Mr. Gray, our principal, so he could buy drugs. Or maybe Mr. Mitchell stole the money to buy a new van for his wife and seven kids.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that there's no way Andy could be a secret agent. He's pretty stupid and spends most of his recess making fart noises under his hairy armpit. A secret agent would find better things to do with his time.
The morning I noticed my nipples, I was getting ready for school. I couldn't decide what to wear, since it was still hot outside. My gray sweatshirt would be cooler, but I wanted to wear the new black one I got through the Sears catalogue.
While I was standing there in my underwear, trying to make up my mind, something in the mirror caught my eye and I turned to look. My nipples looked like two little cherries.
"That's not right," I thought to myself and frowned. My nipples were round and puffy and not the two pink raisins they used to be. I ran my finger over the left one. It was soft as a rose petal. I turned sideways in the mirror and went from my nipples to my big white stomach to my dink with its burnt corn husk hair to my fat, pimply, hairy legs.
"This is the last thing I need," I said.
Then my mother banged on my bedroom door. "Hurry up or you're not going to have time for breakfast!"
It was hard to pay attention at school. I was afraid that someone might see my nipples poking out from under my sweatshirt. When my pencil tip broke during math class, I should've gone up to the pencil sharpener. But I just couldn't. So I finished off my questions using the broken lead stub, which wasn't easy, and my fingertips were all black by the time I finished.
While I was delivering papers later that afternoon, I kept my fingers crossed that Mr. Hanlan wouldn't see me. He usually keeps a lookout for me from his living room window. But he has to be careful that his wife doesn't catch him or she'll blow up and start screaming at him.
Mr. Hanlan is my favorite paper-route customer. He lives on Evergreen Street and works as an electrician. He's younger than most of my customers and has the brownest eyes I've ever seen. His wife, Mrs. Hanlan, is evil. She tricked him into marrying her because there's no way Mr. Hanlan would ever marry someone as ugly as her. She's so skinny, her arms look like toothpicks and her boobs look like acorns. She's got a very bad perm, too.
Mrs. Hanlan pretends to be all nice to me whenever I come collecting.
"Oh hi, Peter. Is it that time of the week already?" Or, "You must be awfully hot today. Do you want something to drink?"
"Keep your poison to yourself," I think.
I feel bad for Mr. Hanlan because I'm the only bright spot in his day. When he sees me coming up his driveway, I can just imagine the smile on his face. But if he ever finds out that I have a medical condition and my nipple disease might kill me, he'll get so depressed.
"What's the point of getting out of bed if someone has stolen my sun?" he'll ask.
"Shut up and go make some money!" Mrs. Hanlan will scream.
Anyways, while I was walking up the driveway, I noticed that Mr. Hanlan's car was gone, so he still must've been at work. Probably working overtime so that he can afford to get Mrs. Hanlan a new perm. I folded up the paper and stuck it in the mailbox before Mrs. Hanlan had the chance to run out and offer me a cup of bleach or something worse.
Tonight, I had trouble concentrating on my homework. I kept sneaking peeks down my pajama top to see if anything had changed. But my nipples were the same. Maybe even bigger. I snuck out of my room and went to the kitchen to grab some ice cubes.
"Peter, what are you doing?" my mom called out from the living room. She always thinks I'm up to something.
"I'm getting a drink," I said.
"It better not be pop. No pop after nine. You know that."
I put two ice cubes in a Kleenex and tucked them into my hand. Then I made my way back to my room, shut the door, and stuck my desk chair under the door handle, like I always do when I need top security. Then I unbuttoned my top and rubbed little ice cube circles on my nipples. Sure enough, they crinkled right up, like flowers blooming in reverse. So for a few minutes, I thought I might have cured myself. But it wasn't long before they got warm and swelled up again. Cherries on top of two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Thinking that gave me a craving so I went back out to the kitchen and scooped two balls of Heavenly Hash into a bowl and hurried back to my room before my mom noticed.
After putting the chair back under the door handle, I sat down on the floor with my ice cream and leaned back against my bed. I was scared about the future. Eighth grade had just started. How was I ever going to make it through the year with deformed nipples? How was I going to make it without anyone finding out my terrible secret? I was so worried that I almost didn't finish the ice cream.
"Why are you acting this way?" I asked my nipples, but they didn't answer.
My sister Nancy noticed my nipples the other day. I just know she's going to say something to Christine. They're always bugging me, calling me a Momma's Boy and that I'll end up like Uncle Ed, which isn't true at all because I know how to work a washing machine and the only reason I'm nice to my mom is because she's going through The Change and needs a lot of sympathy.
I could call them names back and say things like "Does Mom know you have a copy of Playgirl in your drawer, Nancy?" but I don't because that wouldn't be Christian and if Jesus had sisters who got on his case all the time, he'd still turn the other cheek and pray for their dirty souls. Plus, I'm afraid of my sisters. They're both older than me and once you get on their bad sides, you don't have much of a chance. Like a few weeks ago when Christine caught me in her room. I wasn't snooping. I was only looking for a pen. But she got pretty hot under the collar, calling me a "snoop" and saying "who keeps pens in their underwear drawer so don't even try that with me." The next night, I was in the bathroom, waiting for the tub to fill up. I was naked and bent over, checking the water temperature when I heard a click and then a scream. Nancy and Christine had picked the bathroom door lock with a hairpin and I turned around to see them standing in the doorway, pointing at my dink and screaming their heads off. I started screaming back at them and grabbed the only thing I could -- my mom's hand mirror -- to cover my dink. Then they raced down the hall and I slammed the door so hard, it cracked down the middle and my dad had to replace it.
"Not so funny now, is it?" he said as he screwed the new door into place.
"Dad, I'm not laughing, am I?"
"Are you sure your mother wasn't behind this? She's been on my back about a new bathroom door for weeks."
If my mother had her way, she'd make my father replace everything in our house. She wants to change the shag carpeting to low-pile, she wants sheers for the living room window instead of curtains, and she wants new cupboard doors for the kitchen.
"We've had these since the early seventies, Henry," she always says.
"So? They still open and close, don't they?"
If my father had his way, he'd want everything to stay the same until either it broke or the world blew up. He doesn't even change his washcloth. It hangs off the curtain rod like a sad flag. Every now and then, I'll get a whiff of it. My mom keeps telling him he should wash it, but he says he washes it every time he's having a bath, which is once a week.
"That's not washing it, Henry," my mom says. "You're not washing anything if you're cleaning your butt with it."
Anyways, I know that Nancy noticed my nipples, even though she didn't say anything. We were sitting in the living room. I was watching tv and eating Cheez Doodles. Nancy was eating a row of Oreos, waiting for her boyfriend. André was half an hour late and Nancy was freaking out.
"Are you sure he didn't call?" she yelled. Her teeth were brown with Oreo paste. But no one answered her because André is always late picking up Nancy.
Nancy and I were sitting there and I dropped a Cheez Doodle. So I bent down to pick it up and as I grabbed the Cheez Doodle, I looked up and caught Nancy looking down my top. She did it really quickly, but I'm pretty sure of it. It takes a lot to pull the wool over my eyes. I was wearing one of my old sweatshirts with a loose neck so she could've seen my nipples very easily. I sat back up and pressed one of the couch pillows against my chest. Nancy coughed, looked at the living room clock, and started working on a new row of Oreos. She wasn't going to admit to seeing my nipples, so I sent her a mental telepathy message.
"I'd watch it if I were you," I said as loudly as I could in my head. "One word and I'll tell Mom how long you and André were parked in the driveway the other night."
Just then, André's car pulled into our driveway and Nancy jumped up.
"Finally," she said, grabbing her jacket from the hall chair. As I watched her and André drive away in his blue car, I got a mental telepathy message back from her.
"Everyone's going to find out your secret sooner or later."
Today after school, I walked to the Shop 'N' Bag and bought some Scotch tape. The Shop 'N' Bag is in the Westown Plaza, which is a five-minute walk from my house. I think of the Westown Plaza as my second home, the one I go to when things are bothering me or a place to go on a Saturday afternoon if there's nothing on television. There's a Rite Aid, a butcher shop called "Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe," a Bi-Way, two empty stores that have had "For Lease" signs in the windows for as long as I can remember, and "Papa Bertoli," the restaurant that Daniela Bertoli's dad owns. There's also a pet store called "Kathy's Kritter Korner." Daniela calls it "Kathy's Killing Korner," because she said that Kathy shoots the kittens and puppies she doesn't sell, but I don't think that's true because Kathy wears a gold cross around her neck. And I've caught Daniela telling lies to me before, like when she told me her dad tried to strangle her mom.
"I had to hop on his fuckin' back to get him off her," she said. "You can still see the bruises on her neck."
So I grabbed my binoculars and spied on the Bertolis' house the next day and when Mrs. Bertoli came out, wearing her Orioles cap and a T-shirt, there was not a single bruise on her neck.
The Shop 'N' Bag is at the very end of the strip. It's a small variety store that sells candy and chips, as well as birthday cards, roach traps, canned vegetables, hair gel, shoelaces, clothing dye, and black velvet paintings of sombreros. The man who owns the Shop 'N' Bag is Mr. Bernard. He has no hair but he's always very nice to me. That's because I'm a preferred customer. When the new 7-Eleven opened down the street, I made my mind up to keep shopping at Mr. Bernard's store, even though the 7-Eleven was closer.
"You still have the best selection in town," I told him one afternoon. He laughed and said "Thank you" and threw a Butterfinger into my bag, which already had a Payday and a chocolate milk in it. "Compliments of the house," he said.
The next Saturday, I told Mr. Bernard I really liked
his sombrero paintings. "They're very high quality," I said.
"I'm going to tell everyone on my paper route about them."
Mr. Bernard thanked me again, but didn't put anything in my bag. That kind of cheesed me off, because I spend close to five dollars there every week.
"Don't bite the hand that feeds you, Mr. Bernard," I thought as I walked out.
Today, when I put my Scotch tape on the counter, along with two Milk Way bars, I told Mr. Bernard I was wrapping presents.
"It's my best friend's birthday," I said. I had made up a whole story to cover my tracks.
"Oh, that sounds nice," Mr. Bernard said. "Do you need any wrapping paper? We have a nice selection of birthday cards over there, as well."
"No, I have all that at home."
"Is your friend having a party?"
"Yes. A big one, actually. Everyone from school is going."
"What did you get for your friend?" Mr. Bernard asked, putting the tape and the chocolate bars into a paper bag. He was asking too many questions, as far as I was concerned. I started to get suspicious.
"A bike? Well, that's quite an expensive gift, isn't it?" Mr. Bernard leaned across the counter toward me. I noticed he had dry skin on his cheeks.
"My paper route pays pretty well," I said and shrugged. I grabbed my bag and got out of there before Mr. Bernard could ask anything more.
When I got back home, I went straight to my room with my Scotch tape. I took off my sweatshirt and made a Scotch tape "x" across each of my nipples. I put my shirt back on and stood in front of the fan. I thought it was very smart of me to fake wind.
The Scotch tape isn't too bad, although it makes my skin crinkle under it. It looks like I have many-pointed nipples now. They're stars, which are better than cherries any day.
When Mr. Mitchell assigned us our desks for the year, I kept my fingers crossed that wherever I ended up, I was a) as far as possible from Brian Cinder and b) as close to Andrew Sinclair as possible. Andrew is the most fashionable boy in 8th grade and I think we could be friends some day. But before I even think about asking him to be friends, I'll have to lose a lot of weight, shave my legs, change my personality, and cure my nipples.
As it turned out, I got stuck beside Michelle Appleby, the leader of the Slut Group at Clarkedale, and Jackie Myner, the ugliest girl in the whole school. Jackie is obsessed with Adrian Zmed. He's a Hollywood actor who plays a cop on a television show. She collects photographs of Adrian and pastes them into her "Adrian Zmed" scrapbook. She even wrote out his name in thick black marker on the cover, but she started her letters off too big and by the time she got to the "e" and "d" in "Zmed," she'd run out of room. So the cover says "Adrian Zm" with the "ed" on the inside cover.
On the first day of school, Mr. Mitchell pulled out a copy of Christian Tales for Modern Youth and told us he'd be reading us a story every morning.
"You may think that school is only about math and English and spelling," he said, his eyes stopping on each of our faces. "But my job is also to equip you with the spiritual tools necessary to guide you throughout your lives. Think of this," he said, rapping the cover of the book, "as God's utility belt."
Then he opened up the book and read us a story about a kid who keeps the largest piece of pie for himself and later gets a visit from the Devil.
My mom asked me what religion Mr. Mitchell is, but I don't know.
"His wife and daughters can't cut their hair," I said, "or wear pants. I know that much." I've seen them, waiting for him in the parking lot after school. They creep me out a bit because they all look like zombies.
My mom scrunched up her mouth. "Hmm," she said, "Jehovahs aren't hung up about hair, really."
My mom is afraid of Jehovah's Witnesses. When I was younger, the Jehovahs would come to our neighborhood on Saturday mornings, knocking on all the doors. When my dad was working, my mom would sit by the window and watch for them. When she spotted the Jehovahs making their way down the street, she would whisper/scream "Jehovahs!"
Then she would close the drapes, turn the tv off, and make me and my sisters go into the kitchen and hide behind the counter.
"It's not like they're going to break in if they know we're here," Christine would say.
"ssshhh!" my mom would whisper/scream.
It's good to know that Mr. Mitchell isn't a Jehovah. But my mom thinks that he belongs to a cult.
"There's a group of them that meet out on Highway 7," she said. "Under that big canopy tent. And I'd bet my bottom dollar there are snakes involved."
This morning, after we said The Lord's Prayer and mouthed the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, Mr. Mitchell pulled out his Christian Tales book and read us a story about a rich girl who gives a poor girl a new pair of patent leather shoes.
"Who can tell me the message of this story?" he asked at the end. He looked at the Indian kids when he asked, like he was hoping they were listening. But the only answer he got was Eric Bird horking into a Kleenex.
Mr. Mitchell looked over at Margaret Stone. Her dad is the minister of St. Paul's Church. I don't think Margaret listens to the stories, either, but she must know them all by heart. Before she could say anything, Jackie Myner put up her hand. Mr. Mitchell pretended not to see her because Jackie stutters and it takes a very long time for her to say anything. But she kept waving her arm and twisting around in her seat and making these little grunting noises, so Mr. Mitchell didn't have much of a choice.
"C-c-c-can I g-g-go to the bathroom? I th-think I'm
g-g-g-going to throw up."
Mr. Mitchell rolled his eyes and said yes, she could, but to hurry up. Jackie ran out of her seat and out the door.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have deformed nipples because of my subconscious. I know about that because my sister Christine told me about it. The subconscious is a very tricky thing, Christine said. She told me that when bad things happen to people, it's because their subconscious secretly wants the bad things to happen.
"Do you honestly think Mom fell off that porch by accident?" she asked me. A few months back, my mom got her first job selling Mary Kay cosmetics. She said it was her idea, but it was really my dad who got after her.
"If you're bored, why don't you get out of the house and find something to do, Beth?" He wasn't angry, but he did sound very tired.
"Well I don't know what to do, Henry. I've been raising three kids for the past eighteen years but I can't put that on a résumé. Can I?"
Then my mom got invited to a Mary Kay party and came home with new lipstick and a new attitude.
"This is it!" she said. "I've found what I'm looking for."
We all tried to sound happy for her, but everyone remembered my mom had said the same thing when she got hired to take the census. She only lasted a day before she quit.
"I just felt I was invading people's privacy," she told my dad.
Anyways, when my mom was leaving her very first Mary Kay house party, she slipped off the woman's porch and twisted her ankle.
"Her subconscious made her fall," Christine said. "She did it because she didn't make her quota at the party. And you know what she's like. If at first you don't succeed, might as well just give up."
I wasn't sure about that. I mean, my mom was crying because she said her ankle hurt so bad.
"How could she make herself fall?" I asked. "How could her unconscious mind make her do something stupid like that? And if she really didn't want to work, why wouldn't she just quit?"
"That's sub-conscious, not unconscious, you moron," Christine said. "And never underestimate the power of psychological persuasion. Look at me. Do you know how many girls would kill for the chance to work for Peoples? But I believed in myself enough to make it happen."
Then Christine went back to filing her nails.
I ignored Christine, the way I always do when she starts talking about her brain or how much she loves her job at Peoples Jewelers. But now, I'm wondering if she's right. What if my mom didn't fall off that porch by accident? Maybe we do make bad things happen to ourselves because we think we deserve them. Maybe we need to be punished for thinking things we shouldn't.
The more I think about it, the more I realize I'm being punished for the Bedtime Movies. I started having them a couple of years ago. No one knows about them. The Bedtime Movies play over and over in my head until I fall asleep at night. Even though they make me feel bad, I can't stop them from coming into my head. They have a mind of their own.
BEDTIME MOVIE #1
I'm Brooke Shields. I'm wearing a shiny pink dress. The hem of my dress is very high. I'm wearing spice-colored nylons over my shapely legs. I'm also wearing white high-heeled shoes.
My car has broken down in front of Mr. Hanlan's house.
I'm Brooke Shields in a shiny pink dress and why can't I start this icky car? Jeez! I hit the steering wheel. Mr. Hanlan is watching me from his living room window. He thinks I've got great hair and comes out to help me. He's wearing a red Speedo.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hanlan can't start my car.
"There's not much we can do about it," he says and slams the car hood down. "She's a goner."
"What am I going to do?" I ask him. I think I'm going to cry. "Now I'm going to be late for my photo shoot."
"Would you like to come in for a hot chocolate?" Mr. Hanlan asks me.
"I don't think your wife would like that," I say. My eyes want to look at his chest, his red Speedo. But I'm stronger than that.
"My wife's dead," Mr. Hanlan says. "She was killed last week in a car accident."
"That's terrible!" I say.
"Not really," Mr. Hanlan says. He's staring at my long, red nails. "I didn't really love her, anyway. I only married her because she forced me to. Besides, the accident was her fault. She ran a red light. Lucky there was no one else hurt."
Mr. Hanlan tells me he's lonely.
"Every day, I just sit in the house with no one to talk to. Sure could use some company, though. I guess I can't change your mind about that hot chocolate, can I?"
"If you insist," I sigh and look down at my wristwatch. "It's the least I can do. But I can't stay for very long. I have a photo shoot, remember."
Mr. Hanlan tells me not to worry, that he won't take up too much of my time. He knows that I'm Brooke Shields and that I'm very busy.
"Besides, you're not going anywhere with a broken-down car," he says and smiles. "When you're done with your hot chocolate, I'll drive you where you have to go."
I sit at Mr. Hanlan's kitchen table while he makes the hot chocolate. He asks me questions about myself, but I'm vague and check my hair for split ends.
Although I don't say it, it's warm and comforting and exciting in Mr. Hanlan's kitchen. It's also a little scary, because then I realize that Mr. Hanlan is wearing a Speedo, his wife is dead, and there's no one else home.
Mr. Hanlan turns to me and winks. "Would you like big or small marshmallows in your hot chocolate?"
Then I fall asleep.