Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life

Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life

4.5 22
by Barbara Dee
     
 

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Twelve-year-old Cassie has a lot to cope with when her father moves "out of the picture." Her mom's constantly working overtime, her teenage sister's going AWOL, and her little brother seriously needs attention. It's up to Cassie to prevent total chaos at home -- or so she thinks.

She can't control everything, though. At school Cassie's two "best" friends… See more details below

Overview

Twelve-year-old Cassie has a lot to cope with when her father moves "out of the picture." Her mom's constantly working overtime, her teenage sister's going AWOL, and her little brother seriously needs attention. It's up to Cassie to prevent total chaos at home -- or so she thinks.

She can't control everything, though. At school Cassie's two "best" friends are turning nasty, and a cute boy is sending mixed signals. And then there's Mr. Mullaney -- the weirdest, hardest English teacher in the seventh grade -- who hates everything she does. Since Mr. Mullaney isn't even reading her brilliant work, Cassie starts submitting journal entries like "A Virtual Tour of My Insanely Messy Desk." But her sassy humor isn't winning her any friends or helping her ailing grades. What's a girl to do when life gets totally insane?

Barbara Dee has created a witty, poignant portrait of an intense, honest, feisty girl who is ferociously funny and only too human.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dee makes an impressive debut with this achingly real novel narrated by a 12-year-old who is valiantly trying to cope with upsetting changes in her life. After Cassie's father moved away for a mysterious reason (later disclosed), the family sold their house and now lives in a "ratty old condo development." Since their mother works long hours, Cassie's older sister, Miranda, has volunteered to do the food shopping and care for their younger brother after school. Yet the self-centered teen usually does neither so it's up to Cassie to keep things together-all the while hiding Miranda's irresponsibility and her own harried state from their frazzled mother. Meanwhile, Cassie becomes estranged from her former best friends, with whom she was on swim team before financial concerns forced her to quit; her grades begin to plummet; and, since her English teacher seems to be concerned only with the length rather than content of his students' journal entries, she abandons the fantasy saga that she had found great comfort in writing. Impressively, Dee keeps Cassie's dire straits from descending to melodrama, thanks to the heroine's sharp sense of humor, increasing self-confidence, and a spunkiness that readers will find refreshing. Some lighthearted moments between the sisters keep Miranda from playing the total villain. Though most readers are not grappling with the spectrum of losses and challenges that Cassie faces, they will likely be inspired by her resilience. Ages 10-14. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Amanda MacGregor
When 12-year-old Cassie's parents split up, her life turns upside down. Cassie, her mother, her sister Miranda, and her brother Jackson move into a shabby apartment, or "unit," as Cassie calls it. Cassie's mother is always gone at work, leaving the children to take care of each other. Nearly 16-year-old Miranda volunteers to do the grocery shopping and the babysitting after school, but quickly abandons her duties in favor of hanging out with friends or talking on the phone. Cassie shoulders more than her fair share of responsibilities around the house. She is great with Jackson, a meek little boy who seems to be struggling in school and is always overlooked at home. As if worrying about her home life weren't enough, Cassie is unhappy at school, too. Her old friends are no longer interested in her now that she's "poor." Cassie seeks refuge from the many problems in her life by throwing herself into a journal assignment for her English class. She works hard on a fantasy story, hoping to turn it into a novel. When she gets a bad grade on the assignment, because it doesn't meet the page requirement, she is crushed. She decides she won't try so hard next time, but ends up disappointing both her teacher and herself. It is only after Jackson relays stories of what really goes on at home that their mother steps up and takes an active parenting role. Overall, Dee has created a story that will cause readers to sympathize with Cassie and be frustrated with her circumstances. Though some of Cassie's problems are heavy burdens, many are things most teenagers can relate to, like arguments with a sibling, fickle friends, and awkward encounters with boys. Choppy plotting and uneven characterdevelopment mar an otherwise enjoyable debut.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Lady Catrain must defend Queen Alynna from the evil Lord Valdyk. This does not sound "insanely real," does it? In fact, it is the journal writing of feisty 12-year-old Cassie, who finds solace in writing fantasy that parallels her personal experiences. Her single mom works long hours to support the family; Miranda, 15, is often irresponsible and sometimes angry. Cassie takes a lot of responsibility at home, particularly regarding six-year-old Jackson, who is in need of attention. The bane of Cassie's life is her sarcastic English teacher. She mistakenly comes to believe that her teacher only counts the number of pages in their journals, ignoring the contents, and begins writing a series of very funny and definitely hostile journal entries musing on such deep topics as rubber bands and converting fractions into percents. After her "best friends" drop her due to the lessening of her family's social status, Cassie reluctantly befriends overweight outcast Bess, who shares her love of fantasy fiction. The characters and their interactions are effectively delineated. Cassie realistically struggles with insecurity, rudeness, and impossible expectations from those around her. Everyone in the family has an epiphany of some sort that leads to a satisfyingly believable ending. Cassie is a spunky preteen, and girls will easily relate to her awkward chats with the boy she likes, sibling spats, and occasional moments of clarity.-B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Library, Sag Harbor, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Cassie's (12) life is turned upside down when her father moves out, leaving the family struggling to keep everything as normal as possible. Cassie's mother sells their house and moves her three children into a condo, leaving behind a decidedly ordinary middle-class life. After the nanny for five-year-old Jackson quits, older sister Miranda offers to take on the babysitting duties. But, like everything else she promises to do around the house, this too ends up falling on Cassie's shoulders. Between attempting to meet the page-count requirement in her English class journal and negotiating the typical social problems of any junior-high student, Cassie takes it upon herself to hold the family together. Unfortunately, as the family starts to unravel, so does the story. Stereotypes, like the stern, but caring teacher and the overweight, but smart classmate populate Cassie's world. Additional problems include the erratic behavior of Cassie's mother and the unsatisfying resolution of the major conflict of the missing father. Overly familiar and uneven. (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
"Dee makes an impressive debut with this achingly real novel. [Cassie has a] sharp sense of humor...that readers will find refreshing."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442431423
Publisher:
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date:
04/19/2011
Series:
Mix Series
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
855,762
File size:
4 MB
Age Range:
9 - 13 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life


By Barbara Dee

Margaret K. McElderry

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Dee
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1416908617

Chapter One

Cat aimed a precious poisoned arrow at the evil Lord Valdyk. "Put down your sword!" she commanded. "This arrow is dipped in dragonfire! If I shoot, you'll die at once!"

"Ah, but you won't shoot, Lady Catrain! Your father gave you only three such arrows! Just three! He intended that you use them only to defend Queen Alynna from gravest danger! (SUCH AS???) If you waste one of them on me, how do you intend to protect your Queen?"

"I'll still have two left, you snake!"

"Of course. But what if you miss? Will you use your second arrow against me, and leave yourself with but one?"

"I won't miss, you swine!"

"Don't be so sure, Lady Catrain. I've heard you're quite an impressive markswoman, but you are, after all, a mere girl. A girl with certain magical Gifts, but a girl nonetheless. And, as a girl, your hand may tremble, and your breath may shake. And then, my dear, if you shoot, you just might miss. Can you take that chance, Lady Catrain? Can you risk leaving your Queen virtually defenseless?"

Cat's green eyes flashed, and her red-gold hair grew fiery with anger. Lord Valdyk was right. She was a Gifted markswoman, but her training wasn't complete. If she missed, how could she defend her mother's throne from Lord Valdyk'smen? She had no choice -- she had to let Lord Valdyk go. But if she did, who knew what havoc the evil Lord might wreak (wreck?)?

"Cassie! What are you, brain-dead in there? Let's go!" screeched my lovely sister Miranda.

"Be there in a second," I sang back.

"Not in a second! Now!"

So, since I wasn't prepared for a full-scale war, which, frankly, was always an option when it came to interacting with my big sister, I re-capped my black extra-fine-point Rolling Writer, closed my regulation two-hundred-page college-lined spiral notebook, and went into the kitchen.

"What were you doing in there?" she grumbled.

"Homework. English."

"Yeah? Well, so sorry to interrupt, Miss Shakespeare, but it's your turn to make supper. Mom called. She said she'll be late, around eight thirty, so she'll pick up something on the way home from work. So just make something for you, me, and Jackson. Something edible, if you don't mind." Then she opened the freezer, took out a Chipwich, took a big bite, put the rest back in the freezer, slammed the freezer door, grabbed the phone, and started dialing.

"I hope that didn't ruin your supper, Young Lady," I said loudly, in my Authority Figure voice.

"I hope it did." She grinned evilly. Then she walked out.

So supper. I sighed. What in the world did I know about making supper? Nothing, completely zero. Usually when it was my turn, Mom left me directions straight out of Microwaving for Morons ("For lasagna, set microwave to five minutes. Use an oven mitt when you take it out -- it's hot!!!"). But this morning she had a superearly "crisis" meeting and had to race out to catch the train. I opened the refrigerator and stared in. Mustard. Yessir, we had lotsa mustard. Honey mustard, spicy brown, country, dijon, tarragon. And a green relish kind that looked like cat barf.

"Randa!" I called. "Did you do the shopping?"

No answer.

I walked into the living room. Miranda was sprawled all over the couch, yakking on the phone.

"Excuse me for interrupting, Miranda, but did you do the shopping like you promised Mom, or not?"

"Just a minute, Madison," she said to Whoever, then rejoined the world of the upright. "Cassie, dear? Did you have a question or a comment?"

"Yeah. My question is, you forgot to do the shopping."

She stared at me. "Omigod," she said. "Omigod. Mad, gotta go. Yeah. Later, babe." She put the phone down. "Omigod, Cassie."

"Who's Madison?" I asked. "Isn't that the name of a street?"

"Avenue," Miranda said. "Listen, Cassie, I am so, so sorry. I just totally forgot all about the shopping, but you know I have this killer Math test tomorrow."

"And?"

"And I have a lot on my mind, okay? What do you want from me? I just said I'm really, really sorry. Isn't there anything else in the fridge?"

"There's...mustard. Oh, and some...mustard. And for dessert, there's...mustard."

"That's all?"

"Well, there's that Chipwich. We could split it three ways. What there's left of it."

Now Miranda glared at me. "Shut up, Cassandra. I told you I was sorry. I can't remember everything. What do you and Jackson want from me? I go to school too, you know."

Then Jackson came into the living room. "Can I tell you something? I'm hungry," he announced.

Miranda and I looked at each other.

"When's Mommy coming home?"

"Not till later," Miranda said.

"What time?"

"Later," Miranda repeated. She held out her hand. "Let's go look in the kitchen for something to eat, Jackie."

"There's mustard," I suggested helpfully.

"Shut up," Miranda growled.

I followed them into the kitchen. I was not going to let Miranda off the hook. Now that Mom was working for a big law firm as Coordinator of Legal Support, whatever that meant, she was practically never home before seven during the school week. So Miranda was expected to pick up a few groceries on the way home from school, important stuff we ran out of, you know, like milk and bread. Mom usually did the big shopping after work on Friday, but this time was different: Grandpop had come down with a bad case of flu, so on Friday night we rushed up to his nursing home to be with him. Grandpop's really old and weak, and Mom was frantic there for a while, but by the end of the weekend his fever was almost normal, so we left. Then, as we pulled into our driveway at around ten on Sunday night, Mom suddenly groaned.

"Oh, no," she said. "I just realized. I was in such a hurry to see Grandpop on Friday that I never went shopping!"

"Oh, don't worry, Mom," Miranda said. "I'll take care of it tomorrow after school. Just write out a list and give me a blank check for the A & P."

"You sure?" Mom asked her, looking worried. "That's a lot for you to handle."

"No problem," Miranda said. "It's late, and you're tired. And nothing's open in town on Sunday night, anyway. I'm sure there's enough for breakfast. We'll be fine. Don't worry."

Then she kissed Mom's cheek. Miranda could be such a suck-up sometimes.

But the thing is, you couldn't believe a word she ever said. Not one single stupid, pathetic word. Did she actually do what she offered to do? Of course she didn't. And now here we were on Monday night, with a totally empty refrigerator, nothing but six different kinds of mustard for supper, and of course, guess what, it was now my problem.

Miranda opened the empty refrigerator, like she didn't believe me. "Great," she said.

She closed it. Then she looked in the pantry.

"Let's see," I announced, peering over her shoulder. "There's flour, baking soda, Tabasco, Cheerios, ranch dressing, stewed tomatoes, tea bags, maple syrup, canola oil, and Crisco. Oh, and iodized salt."

Miranda raised one eyebrow at me. "Got any money? We could order a pizza."

I reached into my jeans pocket and pulled out three crumpled dollar bills and some balled-up lint. "This is everything I've got. And anyway, I paid for the last three pizzas we ordered. Forget it, Ran."

"What? You didn't pay for them, I did! The last two, definitely! And I also paid for the Chinese food we ordered last Wednesday! Or did you conveniently forget that?"

"I'm really, really hungry!" Jackson wailed. The situation was clearly deteriorating.

"What about cereal?" I took the box of Cheerios from the pantry. It wouldn't be the first time we had Cheerios for supper, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be the last.

But then Jackson started crying. "I want Mommy! I'm really hungry and I hate Cheerios, and I want Mommy to come home right now!"

Miranda picked him up. Jackson was almost six, the youngest in the family, and he got babied a lot. It disgusted me, if you want to know.

"Put him down," I said. "If he's really hungry, he'll eat Cheerios. It won't kill him."

"I HATE CHEERIOS!" Jackson shouted. "AND I HAVE A BOOK REPORT!"

Miranda put him down. "You have a what?"

"Book re-report," he hiccupped. "And I want Mommy to help me."

"But you're only in first grade," I protested. "How can they give you a book report? You can't even read!"

Miranda glared at me. "Yes, he can, Cassbrain. Remember the Bob book he brought home last week?"

"He memorized it, Ran!"

Now Jackson started wailing again.

"Well, I totally can't deal with this," Miranda announced. "Cassie, if you want to eat Cheerios, eat Cheerios. I'll be in my room studying." And then she took the rest of the Chipwich from the freezer and flounced down the hallway to her room.

So, it was me and Jackson.

"Listen, Jackie," I said. "Here's the deal. You can have Cheerios for supper, or mustard. Miranda forgot to do the shopping, so those are the choices. What'll it be?"

"Cheerios," he sniffed.

I poured us each a bowl.

"With milk," he said.

"No milk," I said calmly. "Miranda forgot to buy milk. Would you like some mustard in your Cheerios, senor?"

Now he started to giggle. "No way, Jose."

"Okeydokey. So we'll eat 'em raw." Now that he'd stopped acting like a baby, I was ready to goof around.

But then, all of a sudden, he started crying again. "BUT WHAT ABOUT MY BOOK REPORT?"

I just stared at him, my mouth full of dusty Cheerios. "Listen, Jackie, Miranda is very busy studying, and I have a ton of homework myself. I really can't help you with this. And Mom won't be back until after your bedtime."

Jackson was silent for a second. Then he stuck out his lower lip and dumped his bowl of Cheerios on the floor.

"WHAT DID YOU JUST DO?" I shouted.

Now he was wailing again.

"CASSANDRA, KEEP IT DOWN OUT THERE! I TOLD YOU I'M STUDYING!" Miranda screeched.

"WELL, GUESS WHAT! I HAVE HOMEWORK TOO!" I yelled back. I turned to Jackson. "Okay, buddy. You'd better pick up every single one of these Cheerios. I'm going back in my room, and when I get out, if there's a single Cheerio on the floor, you'll be sorry!"

Jackson was whimpering as he got on his knees to pick up all three trillion Cheerio smithereens one by one. Part of me felt guilty for being so mean to him, but I knew I had every right to be angry. There was no food in the house, Miranda had bailed out, and I was stuck taking care of a bratty, overgrown baby with a stupid book report. And I was in the middle of work of my own.

Lord Valdyk laughed. He knew he had Cat paralyzed, trapped in the hungry quicksand of her terrible dilemma. Destroy her evil nemesis, (who? whom?) she had labored so hard and so long to face at last? Or let the evil Lord go preserving the three precious arrows to defend the Queen?

Just then, little Daeman, Cat's distant cousin and constant shadow, came running into the Grand Meeting Hall. "Cat! Cat! There's a problem! Someone broke into the Queen's Stable and stole two prize warhorses! You must come at once!"

"It will have to wait, Daeman," Cat replied. "I have more pressing matters to attend to right now." She kept the arrow pointing at Valdyk, but she could feel her fingers starting to tremble. Stay focused, she told herself. Forget the horses.

But just then Daeman realized that Cat was aiming her poisoned arrow at the evil Lord Valdyk. The small boy panicked, backing frantically into the Queen's Battle Map, which suddenly came crashing to the floor.

"Daeman! What have you done!" cried Cat. She stared at the ruined Battle Map, the little pins (signifying royal army units) scattered all over the polished floor.

"Ha!" triumphed Valdyk. "Let's see the Queen's battle plans now!"

"Cassie? Can I tell you something?"

"What is it?"

"I finished."

"Finished what?"

"The Cheerios. I picked them all up."

I stared at Jackson. He looked pathetic, pale and red-eyed. And small. Really, really small. Suddenly I felt incredibly sorry for him. "Thanks, Jackie. Now go put on your pj's, okay?"

"So early?"

"It's not early. It's almost eight."

"Oh. Okay. Cassie?"

"What?"

"I'm sorry."

"That's okay. I'm sorry too."

"For what?"

"For yelling at you. I'll tell Mom about the book report, and she'll work on it with you tomorrow."

"That's when it's due!"

"Yeah? Well, your teacher will understand. Don't worry."

Jackson's lip began to tremble. "But what if Mom's working late tomorrow night too?"

"Then I'll help you. Or Miranda will. Stop worrying so much! Now please just get into your pj's and brush your teeth, okay?"

"Okay. Cassie?"

"What?"

"Buster and Fuzzy are hungry. I think they want some cat food."

I slammed my spiral notebook shut. Was I expected to do everything, solve every single domestic crisis around here?

"MIRANDA!" I yelled down the hall.

"WHAT IS IT!"

"DID YOU FORGET TO BUY CAT FOOD?"

"WAS IT ON THE SHOPPING LIST?"

How should I know? Mom made the list for her, not me. "YEAH!"

"THEN I DIDN'T BUY IT! I DIDN'T GO SHOPPING, REMEMBER?"

I stormed into her room. "Well, the cats are starving, and we can't exactly give them Cheerios and mustard, can we?"

She shrugged dramatically.

"That's it? That's all you have to say?"

Now she sighed dramatically. "Cassandra darling, I already told you, like, five thousand times that I'm sorry. What exactly do you want me to do?"

"Get the stupid cat food!"

"Get it yourself."

I stared at her in disbelief. "How? It's eight o'clock at night!"

"So? The CVS is open twenty-four hours. It's not too far. Take your bike."

"But it's your fault! Why should I have to go?"

"Cassie," she said patiently, as if she were explaining things to a retarded toddler with a long-term memory problem. "This is not my fault. None of it. It's Dad's fault for leaving us, and forcing Mom to be out working at all hours. I am not a housewife, I am a hardworking student trying to get the best possible grade in Math so I can go to the college of my choice and get out of this madhouse, and if I forgot to buy cat food, I am just very sorry for the ten millionth time, but if you want to go out at night and go shopping, it's fine with me!"

"FINE!" I roared. Then I grabbed my sweatshirt, crammed my three dollars into the front pocket, got my bike, and zoomed out of the house.

It wasn't always like this, but sometimes that's hard to believe. Sometimes I have to remind myself that back in the days when Dad was with us, we were like every other family in Emerson: nice house, big backyard, two cars, a zillion after-school activities, vacations at Disneyland, once even a ski trip to Utah.

Then something happened. I was never sure what. All I knew was that sometime early last spring Mom and Dad started having what they called "private discussions." I'd go into a room and there they'd be, glaring at each other, not saying a word. "Cassie, dear, could you give us a moment," Mom would say. "Dad and I are having a private discussion."

"Okay, sure, no problem," I'd mutter, wondering how you could have a discussion when you weren't even talking.

Copyright 2006 by Barbara Dee

Chapter Two

It wasn't always like this, but sometimes that's hard to believe. Sometimes I have to remind myself that back in the days when Dad was with us, we were like every other family in Emerson: nice house, big backyard, two cars, a zillion after-school activities, vacations at Disneyland, once even a ski trip to Utah.

Then something happened. I was never sure what. All I knew was that sometime early last spring Mom and Dad started having what they called "private discussions." I'd go into a room and there they'd be, glaring at each other, not saying a word. "Cassie, dear, could you give us a moment," Mom would say. "Dad and I are having a private discussion."

"Okay, sure, no problem," I'd mutter, wondering how you could have a discussion when you weren't even talking.

And then one day in May, Mom announced at dinner that Dad was "out of the picture." I was eleven and a half and scared; I kept imagining all our family photos with Dad's face just gone, like there was a digital photo god somewhere keeping track of families and then systematically deleting people who one day just weren't there anymore. Miranda was almost fifteen, so she felt like she had the right to keep asking Mom questions. But all Mom would ever say to her was, "I really don't know Dad's plans right now, but I'll tell you when I do." Which, according to Miranda, meant: "Dad is 'out of the picture,' so just deal with it, Miranda."

Mom spent a lot of time in her bedroom, and I heard her crying all the time, so I kept out of her way and acted like everything was just fine. Besides, I thought, if she wasn't telling Dad's "plans" to Miranda, why would she tell me? Once I saw her accept a registered letter from Florida, so my theory was that Dad had moved down there for some reason. I didn't know this for sure: He'd called us exactly five times since May, but "to hear our voices," he said, not to tell us what was going on. The last three times he called were back in August, and every time, Miranda just hung up on him.

So then everything changed. We had to sell our nice big house and our second car, quit our activities, start counting every penny. Mom wanted to stay in Emerson because, she said, we were "doing so well in the schools." So we moved into a "unit" in Shady Woods, a ratty old condo development on the edge of town. (I don't mean ratty in the sense that it had actual rats; I mean ratty in the sense that it was old and kind of shabby.) It's where all the divorced parents go when their families break up. Usually one parent keeps the nice big house where the kids live, and then the kids visit the other parent's ratty little "unit" on weekends. (Usually the dad gets the "unit," but our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Patella, was a mom, so it can go either way, I guess. Of course, Mrs. Patella's kids were all grown up, so she doesn't really count, anyway.) As far as I knew, we were the only family living in a "unit" full-time, and I hated everything about it: the tiny square rooms, the thin walls, the concrete outside instead of our old backyard. But I also knew we were lucky to have it, so I didn't complain, except in my head, and then only when I was feeling really grouchy.

The other big thing that changed was that now Mom was at work all the time, instead of just part of the time, like she was when Dad was "in the picture." Last May when Dad left, Mom hired this nice housekeeper-slash-nanny (housekeeper for Miranda and me, nanny for Jackson). Her name was Sophie Kwidzyn and she was from Krakow, Poland, and cooked this weird food that actually tasted pretty good. Miranda was kind of snotty to her, but Jackson loved her. He followed her around the "unit" like a big-eyed puppy and crawled into her lap whenever she sat down. She hugged and kissed him and called him all these words in Polish that sounded like creamy desserts.

Then at the beginning of September, a few days before school was about to start, Sophie told Mom that she had to go back to Krakow to take care of her sick father. "Two weeks," she promised, "and then I come back." But two weeks passed, and then three, and no Sophie. Mom finally phoned her in Poland and found out that she wasn't coming back, not in two weeks, not ever. Jackson, of course, freaked out. Mom was frantic -- she had to get back to work to Coordinate Legal Support, but who would watch Jackson? Aunt Abby came to help out for a few days, but she had to get back to her own family. Mom tried hiring a bunch of different babysitters from some babysitter agency, but Jackson hated every single one and just kept crying and crying for Sophie. I was starting to lose it, being stuck in this ratty little "unit" with all these strange women trying to calm down a hysterical little brother and a furious teenage sister playing "music" as loud as she could to drown out the noise. Finally, when I was this close to going psycho, Miranda called a family meeting.

"Listen," she told Mom. "This is crazy. I'm fifteen years old, I've been babysitting since I was twelve, and I'm not moving back to Krakow. So, why can't I just watch Jackson in the afternoons until you get home?"

Mom looked surprised, but not shocked. "That's nice of you to offer, sweetheart," she said slowly, "but it's a big responsibility. Jackson needs a lot of attention. What about your homework?"

"I'll be good!" Jackson swore. He looked like a puppy desperate for a bone.

"Of course, baby, you're always good," Mom said, kissing his cheek, "but I don't know."

"Jackie plays by himself all the time, anyway," Miranda continued. "He'll be quiet, so I'm sure I'll be able to study. And Cassie will help, won't you, Cassie?" She stared at me with a bright Say yes smile.

"Oh, sure," I said. Jackie sure seemed to want it. Anyway, what could be worse than what was already going on around here?

"And you won't have to pay me, so we'll save money," Miranda said.

Mom looked upset. "Miranda, that's not the issue!"

"Of course," Miranda agreed. "But if you want to pay me..."

"I'm not going to pay you for helping out!"

"Fine," said Miranda. "So let me help out. At least give it a few weeks."

That clinched it. And for the first couple of weeks it worked fine, definitely better than with the strange women and all the crying. Miranda would give Jackson a big hug when he got off the school bus, pour him some Nesquik, hang out with him for a few minutes, then do her homework while he played Power Rangers in his room or watched TV. At six she and I would take turns microwaving supper, and then Mom was usually home by seven. Things were almost normal, I thought. But by the end of a month Miranda was turning back into her old irresponsible, lazy, selfish self, and so here I was out on a school night, bicycling four blocks to the CVS.

I never liked biking at night, and now that it was late October the nights were chilly. But I had no choice: If I didn't buy the cat food, Miranda sure wouldn't, and then the cats would declare war, chewing on my spiral notebook, knocking books off the shelves, scratching up my desk, meowing. And then, if all that failed, barfing. Buster and Fuzzy could barf at will. They would barf if they didn't get fed, didn't get brushed, didn't get petted. Once they barfed right in my slippers during the night so I felt a nice cold squoosh when I put them on in the morning. And every day they would barf for their breakfast at precisely six thirty-four a.m., a full one minute before my alarm clock went off at six thirty-five. There was no way they'd let me survive the night if they didn't get fed. And if I didn't feed them, I knew, nobody would.

The CVS was lit up like a maximum-security prison as I coasted into the parking lot. Oh, great, I thought: I hadn't brought my bicycle lock. Well, I'd only be in the store for a minute. I parked my bike right in front of the door, raced inside to Aisle 8, Pet Supplies, and grabbed four slightly dented cans of Friskies Turkey & Giblets Dinner. That sure sounded better than Cheerios & Mustard Dinner. Suddenly it occurred to me that unless I got some milk, tomorrow morning we'd be having Cheerios & Mustard Breakfast.

So I raced over to Aisle 1, where they kept the milk: big, sweaty full gallons of Dairyland's Delight. Shhhheeetrock! There was no way I could ride a bike carrying a gallon of milk; a quart, maybe, but definitely not a gallon. I stuck my arm way in the back of the sour-smelling refrigerator, hoping that maybe an almost-expired quart of milk would be lurking somewhere, when suddenly I heard someone say, "Cassie? Is that you?"

I spun around. Oh, fabulous. "Hi, Mrs. Langley."

Mrs. Langley was our old neighbor when we lived in a house, not a ratty little "unit." She had two little Yorkies that liked to pee on our grass. They had incredibly stupid names: Honey and Sugar.

"I almost didn't recognize you! You've gotten so big!" she gushed.

"Thanks," I said, as if I'd done it on purpose.

"Is your mother here?" she asked, looking around.

"Uh, no. She's home. She just realized we're short of milk, so I volunteered to pick some up."

"On a school night? What a wonderful daughter you are! But how did you get here? Did you walk?"

My heart started to beat fast, but I wasn't sure why. What was wrong with buying some milk at eight (now eight twenty, actually) on a Monday night? Nothing. And it was none of her business how I got here. I opened the refrigerator and hauled out a gallon of whole milk. We never drank whole milk, and I wasn't sure how I'd carry a gallon, but now I just wanted to get away from Mrs. Langley.

"Okay, well, nice to see you, bye!" I called out as I escaped to the checkout line. Of course, I knew it was rude to just stop talking to her, not even answering her question, but it wasn't like she was still our neighbor, and she wasn't even our friend. I once heard Mom telling Aunt Abby how ever since we'd moved into the ratty little "unit," lots of people just cut us off. Like we were tainted or something, just because Dad was "out of the picture" and we had no money. Miranda kept her friends because she spent all her time yakking on the phone, but I was pretty positive that my two so-called best friends, Hayley Garrison and Brianna Schuster, had written me off just because I dropped swim team at the fitness club. They still talked to me at school and everything, but not like before.

"NEXT!" barked the cashier. I put the gallon of milk and the four cans of cat food on the counter.

"Find everything you want today?" he said, yawning.

"Yup."

"Would you like to receive our online newsletter about in-store discounts and other promotions?"

"I'd really just like to pay," I said under my breath.

"Sure thing," he said. He scanned my stuff. "Five twenty-nine." He yawned again.

Monkey droppings! All I'd brought was three dollars! "Um, forget about the milk, then," I mumbled.

But Mrs. Langley had caught up with me. She tapped me on the shoulder. "Cassie, dear, are you short?"

I stood there with my back to her. I shook my head.

"I don't mean short," she apologized. "I mean short of cash."

Now I turned around. My face was burning. "I'm fine," I practically growled.

Then I plunked down the three dollars, grabbed the cans of cat food, got back on my bike, and zoomed home.

Copyright 2006 by Barbara Dee



Continues...


Excerpted from Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life by Barbara Dee Copyright © 2006 by Barbara Dee. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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