How Do You Spell G-E-E-K?by Julie Anne Peters
Best friends Kimberly and Ann both have a dream to make it to the National Spelling Bee in
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How Do You Spell G-e-e-k
By Julie Anne Peters
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2009 Julie Anne Peters
All rights reserved.
Fwap. A thick book dropped onto the cafeteria table, rattling my tray.
I glanced up. "What's this?"
My best friend, Kimberly Tyne, said, "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition."
"I know what it is. What's it doing here?" I bit into my cheeseburger and added in a garble, "Ruining my lunch?"
Kimberly hooked a strand of straight blond hair over her right ear. "My mother started me on a schedule. If I don't practice every day, I won't make it through the rest of the alphabet by April."
My chin hit the floor. "Kimberly, we just finished the big area spelling bee on Friday. You won first place! Can't you even take a break?"
"I had a whole weekend off." She crossed her eyes at me. Pushing her oval designer glasses back up her nose, she eyed the dwindling buffet line. "Be back in a minute. You want anything?"
This stupid dictionary out of my sight, I thought. I shook my head.
Kimberly pointed to Webster's. "We stopped at the M's, I think."
Gag. I jammed the cheeseburger into my mouth. We'd been spelling day and night since Thanksgiving to prepare for the Denver west area spelling bee. Ever since third grade, Kimberly and I had been spelling together, and getting farther every year. Eighth grade, this year, was our last time to compete. We shared a dream—to make it to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
I was a good speller, but Kimberly was awesome. Last year she aced the county spelling bee, the first person ever to get every word right on the written test. I missed six. Even though it got me to the orals, Kimberly outlasted me there, too. She wound up placing third in the whole state of Colorado, while I came in a dismal twenty-third. But who's counting?
Kimberly slid into her seat with her tray. Squeezing open the wedge on her chocolate milk, she said, "How could you have missed fuchsia? It's your favorite color."
I choked, remembering what I was trying to forget about last Friday's fiasco. "I don't remember ever seeing it written down." I'm a visual speller, which means I'm a lousy guesser on words I've never seen. Kimberly knows all the rules, variations, derivations. "So what?" I shrugged. "I still got third place. Still get to go to county."
"Bet you never forget fuchsia." Kimberly aimed her pizza at her mouth and flipped open the dictionary.
That's the truth. Once you misspell a word, you never forget it. "Doesn't matter." I swirled a stale French fry through a glob of ketchup. "I'm switching favorite colors." Wiggling the limp, gooey fry in front of her face, I said, "To red. R-e-d."
She laughed and passed the dictionary across the table. "First word."
Here we go again. I sighed wearily. "Malacostracan. Mal-uh-KOS-tri-kan. Derivation Greek." I sucked in a smile. Kimberly hates foreign words.
"Definition," she said.
I scanned the dictionary page to find the word again. " 'Any of a large subclass of crustaceans having a thorax consisting of eight segments usually covered by a carapace and including the decapods and isopods.' Yikes! Sounds like attack of the pod people."
"Crustaceans aren't people," she replied dryly. "They're like crabs."
I looked again. "Could be crabby pod people."
I picked up my milk and took a swig. "Okay. Here's a sentence. Did you sample the malacostracan salad last week? It was delectable, except the decapod shells got stuck in my teeth and I crunched all during study hall."
Something resembling a smile flickered across Kimberly's lips. A long moment passed. Then another. My hand waved in front of her eyes. "Yo, anybody home?"
"I'm thinking. Malacostracan. M-a-l-a ..." She paused to push her glasses up her nose. "M-a-l-a ... Did you say Greek?"
An audible sigh betrayed my impatience.
"Okay, okay. M-a-l-a-k-o-s-t-r-a-c-a-n."
"Errrrrt." My loudest buzzer imitation.
"I knew it. C, right? M-a-l-a-c?"
"I'm keeping score. So far it's Kimberly Tyne minus one, Ann Keller, zip. Hey, I'm ahead." For the first time ever.
She exploded. "You don't have to make a big deal out of every word I miss. I feel stupid enough as it is."
Then I exploded. "Stupid? When did you ever feel stupid? Every year we practice for the spelling bee, you start up where we left off last year. I have to relearn every word from aardvark on. Don't talk to me about feeling stupid." My voice shook. Even oblivious Kimberly noticed.
She lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry, Ann. I'm just under a lot of pressure. This is our last chance, and I really want to win. Everyone expects me to win. Especially you-know-who."
I knew who. Her parents. The little Hitlers. They expected Kimberly to be perfect. The one time she brought home a B on her report card, she had to do extra credit for the class.
"Well, tell your mom to stop worrying. You're not going to win the spelling bee this year."
She arched an eyebrow.
"That's right. I am. In fact, I'm going to Washington and I'm going to win there, too. So there." I stuck out my tongue.
Her eyes fixed on me. "You sound like you mean it."
"Just try to stop me."
The air between us suddenly chilled as we tried to intimidate each other with frozen stares. Naturally I blinked first. That was my problem—no killer instinct.
"Next?" I passed the dictionary back to her.
She studied the page. "This word is perfect for you, Ann," she said. "Maladjusted. 'Poorly or inadequately adjusted; specifically: lacking harmony with one's environment from failure to adjust one's desires to the conditions of one's life.'" She smirked.
"What does that mean?"
"Sentence: Ann Keller is severely maladjusted if she thinks she can beat me to the National Spelling Bee."
The warning bell jolted us back to reality. Hastily we shoveled the remainder of our lunches into our mouths and scrambled for the cafeteria doors.
"Are we on tonight at your house?" Kimberly asked as she bounded gazelle-like down the hall.
"No, Dad has to work late again, and Chase is going to be home." I made an ugly face that only a brother could love. "Let's make it your place, six-thirty."
Kimberly waved over her shoulder while I slammed my locker in unison with—as usual—the late bell.
Study hall. A whole hour of pretending to do algebra while sneaking a peek ahead in my Webster's. Okay, I admit it: I'm a glutton for punishment. "Maladjusted," I mumbled. "M-a-l-a-d-j-u-s-t-e-d." I checked, just to be sure. What was the definition?
"Failure to adjust one's desires to the conditions of one's life." A sigh escaped my lips.
Kimberly was right. I was maladjusted. Definitely kidding myself about my chances this year. Everyone knew she'd win. She was the best. Plus, last year's first and second place winners had graduated to the ninth grade, leaving Kimberly alone at the top.
I glanced at the next word. Meager. Why wasn't it spelled m-e-e-g-e-r? Long e, right? Medal. Was it medal, meddle, metal, or mettle? You'd need bionic ears to hear the difference. Dad teased me once that Ann was short for Analyze.
The next word was a doozie. Mnemosyne. Ni-MOSS-en-ee—I stumbled over the pronunciation. The Greek goddess of memory. Good. I'd pray to her for help tonight—if I remembered.
Sick of practicing, I slammed the dictionary closed. Mr. Howell shushed me from the front of the room and got an apologetic shrug in response. Opening my algebra book, I took up my usual study hall position, head on arms on book. Staring out the window, where a Colorado spring snowstorm littered the air with frozen confetti, I repeated the maladjusted definition to myself. Lacking harmony with one's environment.
That hit home. My entire life was off-key. My parents' divorce was the pits. Dad kept the house since his computer consulting business was just a couple of miles away, and part of the time he worked in his office at home. Mom moved to Colorado Springs to open Keller Real Estate. She asked us to move with her, but Chase and I didn't really want to change schools. I mean, we grew up in Denver. All my friends were here. We saw Mom on weekends, when she wasn't busy, which was once a month, maybe, if we made an appointment. I missed her.
"Look, Annie, it's not that bad," my big brother Chase's voice echoed in my head. "We get two of everything now. Two homes, two allowances, two working parents. If we play our cards right, we can really rake in the big ticket items—cars, CDs, computers. We just make sure Mom and Dad have to compete for us." His dark eyes twinkled mischievously.
What a material boy. Though maybe he was right. I could use a whole new wardrobe. Plus, if I had pair of leather boots, like the red Georgios Jennifer Caldwell was wearing beside me ...
"Ann? Ann!" I blinked back to earth. Mr. Howell loomed over me, breathing onions from lunch on my face. "Mrs. Welter would like to see you in her office," he said.
"Why?" I shot upright. "I've only been late twice this week."
"Maybe you're receiving the high productivity study hall award." He chuckled as he handed me a hall pass. Adults were so terribly u-n-a-m-u-s-i-n-g.
The principal's office was filled with a lower-life assortment of middle school dropouts. Vacant-eyed flunkies hung around in the waiting area, straddling the wooden benches or just sniveling in place.
"I have a message from Mrs. Welter," I said, handing the school secretary my pink slip.
"Have a seat and I'll let her know you're here." She motioned me to park myself on a bench.
Considering all the diseases communicable through wood, I decided to stand. Not to appear totally stuck-up, I leaned against the wall and faked gum chewing. There was a geeky girl standing next to me. She smiled.
Revolting. A hunk of bread stuck in her braces.
Mrs. Welter's door opened suddenly. "The next time I catch you with cigarettes, it's an automatic suspension," she warned the turf-head leaving her office. "Do you understand, Dwayne?"
He mumbled some obscenity under his breath.
He turned to holler, "Yeah!" and bumped into me. Cooties crawled up my arms. Clucking with disgust, I brushed off the invisible vermin.
"Oh, Ann, hello." Mrs. Welter caught me in her crosshairs. "Please come in." She motioned me into her office, which looked as if it had been bombed by terrorists in training. "Excuse the mess," she said, gesturing to a chair. "I was just reorganizing my files."
She took up her place behind the desk. Smiling at me through steel gray eyes she said, "I'd like to ask a favor of you."
I hate it when adults say that, like you get a choice.
"We have a new student starting today, and I thought it'd be nice if she had someone to show her around. You know, teach her about the way things are done here. Be her sponsor."
Inwardly I moaned. "Is she an exchange student or something?"
Then why would she need a sponsor? "She's not ..." Oh, no, special ed?
Mrs. Welter said, "She's been home schooled all her life. I won't know where to place her until she takes her achievement tests. She comes from a small town in"—Mrs. Welter opened a folder—"Kansas, I think." She closed that folder, then opened another. "Or Nebraska."
Great. A hick. When was I going to have time to tutor a hick from the sticks? "Mrs. Welter, I appreciate your picking me, but I don't have time to tutor. My schedule is like totally full. Maybe Kimberly—" Oops, she wouldn't appreciate me dropping her name.
"I specifically chose you because this new girl's parents recently got divorced. I thought maybe you could use someone to talk to. Someone who's going through a similar experience." She cocked her head at me. "How are you coping anyway, Ann?"
"Swell," I mumbled. For some reason my eyes teared up.
Mrs. Welter went on, "You won't have to tutor. She just needs someone to show her the ropes, make her feel comfortable here at Shiffley. Since she's never been to public school, she might need a bit of catching up socially."
"Then the person you really want is Jennifer Caldwell," I said. "Now, she—"
Mrs. Welter cut me off. She leaned forward on her elbows, boring into my eyes. "If you're feeling overwhelmed, Ann, maybe I could arrange some counseling—"
"No!" Then everyone in school would know I was maladjusted. "I mean, it's not that. I-I guess I could show her around, if that's all it is."
"Wonderful. Are you ready to meet Lurlene?" Mrs. Welter stood.
Lurlene? What was she, a country-western singer or something? Introducing Lurlene Rae Jean from Aberdeen.
"She seems outgoing. You two should hit it off." The principal walked past me to the waiting room.
When they returned, I stood up. It was a natural reaction, since the only way out now was to dive through Mrs. Welter's window. Lurlene was that creepy creature with the braces I'd leaned next to in the waiting area.
"Ann Keller, meet Lurlene Brueggemeyer."
Lurlene flashed a mouthful of metal at me. "Hi again," she said.
Her ghastly appearance made me shudder. Frizzy pigtails festooned out of both sides of her head, secured by red rubber bands. I mean, they weren't even braids. To keep her bangs back, she had three or four pink bow barrettes scraping her skull. Puh-leaze.
As my eyes moved downward, the horror show got hairier. She was wearing ... a jumper? A corduroy jumper over a-a checkered flannel long-sleeved shirt? Okay, maybe she was making a fashion statement—something like "back to the woods." But not ... oh, no! She had on cowboy boots. Yeehaw.
"Ann will be your sponsor, Lurlene." Mrs. Welter's voice cut off my gawk. "She's one of our most outstanding students. And very popular." She winked at me. My face sizzled with humiliation. Or was that dread?
Lurlene turned to me. "Um, thanks," she said shyly.
I mumbled something I didn't really mean like, "No problem."
Mrs. Welter rummaged around in the paper jungle on her desk. "Here's your schedule." She handed Lurlene a list. "Your classes may change after I get your test results. Ann will show you to your locker and help you find your classrooms. Is there anything else?"
We both shrugged.
I paused outside the office door so that I could study Lurlene's schedule—and plot my escape. Lurlene said to me, "Mrs. Welter's really nice."
Without looking up, I replied, "Yeah, a lobotomy'll do that for you. She escaped from the mental ward a few months ago."
I looked at Lurlene.
"Oh, you're kidding." She grinned. "That's funny."
I didn't reply. I was busy stifling disgust. Lurlene's schedule was unbelievable. She was in all the Level 1 classes—you know, for the "challenged" students. We had names for those classes: Human Experiments in Science, Reading Rainbow, Teen Skills for the Criminally Inclined.
"You weren't exactly home schooled at Harvard, were you?" I said.
Lurlene blushed. "I wish." She didn't say anything more, which stalled the conversation. But they don't call me rrr-Ann Off At The Mouth for nothing.
"Mrs. Welter said you moved here from Kansas or Nebraska."
"South Dakota," Lurlene corrected.
"Ah. So, you must know Laura Ingalls personally."
Lurlene laughed. She had a really loud laugh, and it drew attention to us.
I ducked my head. "Look, we'd better get to your locker and find your classroom or you're going to be late. You don't want to miss"—I glanced down at her schedule and mumbled, "Math for the Mental Giant."
Dad wasn't going to be home by the time I had to leave for Kimberly's, so I stuck a note on the fridge. "Dad—I made your dinner. It's in the freezer in that box that says 'Budget Gourmet.' Nuke and puke. I'll be home around nine. Your darling daughter."
Chase was home. He slammed the phone down just as I opened a can of Franco- American SpaghettiOs. On his way past, he grabbed the can.
"Hey, dog breath. Give it back. That's my dinner."
"Grrr," he growled. He yanked open the silverware drawer, saw it was empty, and unlatched the dishwasher. "These clean?" he said.
"How should I know? It's your week for KP."
Chase held a spoon up to the light. "No crusties." He handed it to me and selected another for himself. Just to be safe, I rinsed mine off.
We sat at the breakfast bar, feasting from the can.
"You're in a mood," I said to Chase. "What happened? Sherilyn dump you? Or is it Nicole this week? I can't keep track."
He sneered at me. For a minute he didn't speak. Finally he swallowed his mouthful of SpaghettiOs and said, "I asked Mom to come to my wrestling meet on Saturday. It's the first round of semifinals, and she hasn't been to one meet all year. I thought she'd want to come see me pin my guy at least once." His lips tightened so hard, his dimples dented his cheeks.
Excerpted from How Do You Spell G-e-e-k by Julie Anne Peters. Copyright © 2009 Julie Anne Peters. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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