Read an Excerpt
MAKEOVERS BY MARCIA
By Claudia Mills
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2005 Claudia Mills
All right reserved.
Chapter One Marcia weighed 110 in the morning. It was definitely better than 111, but still pretty sickening. She put on one of her three pairs of shorts that fit and a purple top to match her nail polish. Her hair looked somewhat better than usual, soft and dark and silky. Alex sometimes teased her with a quick pull on her hair. Maybe he'd do that today. He still hadn't e-mailed her back, though. Marcia had checked her e-mail twice already this morning. Nothing.
"Don't you look pretty," her father said when she presented herself in the kitchen.
"Oh, Daddy." He always thought she looked pretty, so Marcia could never take his compliments seriously. Still, he was sweet to say it.
"What do you want for breakfast?" her mother asked. "You left yourself all of five minutes to eat."
"Nothing. I'm not hungry."
"Is this that diet? Especially if you want to lose weight, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I got you some grapefruit. I can scramble you an egg and fix you some toast to go with it."
Marcia's stomach rebelled at the thought of unsweetened, mouth-puckering grapefruit first thing in the morning. Still, yesterday's grapefruit had burned off one pound so far. "I'll havesome grapefruit. No eggs or toast."
She made herself eat a few bites, until she could feel the acid start to take effect. "I'm full. Can we go?"
"Not so fast," her father said. "Eighth grade! Next year, high school! I need a picture of my baby." Marcia saw that he had his camera ready on the kitchen counter. He had taken a picture of her on the first day of school every year so far. All were framed and hanging on the wall in his office.
Marcia posed outside, in front of the same pine tree where she had stood for all her pictures. She remembered to suck in her stomach before the camera clicked. She'd have to work on holding it in all day.
Her mother drove her the mile to school. "Good luck, honey. You do look nice."
Her mother's compliments were more rare and meaningful than her dad's. "Thanks."
Marcia hopped out of the car and looked around for Sarah, Jasmine, or Lizzie. First she found Sarah, easy to spot in her bright yellow daisy top. "I'm mad at you," Marcia said by way of greeting.
Marcia didn't answer.
"Because I told Jasmine and Keeley and Brianna that you'd gained some weight? We're your friends. We want to help you. Did you try the grapefruit diet? Jasmine says it's like a miracle how fast it works."
Marcia couldn't stay mad at Sarah for long. She would have done the same thing if Sarah had said something like that to her. She was surprised that Sarah had stopped after telling three other people.
"Oh, and I guess I told Brittany and Lizzie. But Lizzie doesn't really count, and Brittany-did you know her sister has a weight problem, too?"
"And she lost fifteen pounds this summer. You can ask Brittany how she did it. I think she used that diet where you eat bacon all day long."
"Bacon? Nothing's more fattening than bacon."
"All I know is that she lost fifteen pounds doing it. I think the fat in the bacon acts like a magnet for the fat in your body. Sort of fat attracts fat."
As she was half listening to Sarah, Marcia scanned the gathering crowd for a glimpse of Alex. She saw his best friend, Dave Barnett, and short Ethan Winfield, who was always paired with tall, gangly Julius Zimmerman. And Travis Edwards, Sarah's current crush, tall and good-looking, but not as tall and good-looking as Alex. But there was no sign of Alex anywhere.
Then someone grabbed her from behind, covering her eyes with his hands.
"Guess who?" a falsetto voice asked.
Marcia's heart soared. "Let go of me, Alex Ryan!" She broke free from his "blindfold" and whirled around to face him. He grinned at her. She smiled back.
Sarah had tactfully withdrawn as soon as Alex appeared. It occurred to Marcia to hope that Alex hadn't overheard the tail end of their conversation. "Fat attracts fat" was not the image a girl wanted to burn into a boy's brain.
"Where's your schedule?" Alex asked.
Marcia shrugged off her backpack as gracefully as she could and pulled her schedule from her pink binder.
"Hand it over," Alex said.
Marcia waited for his report. Please, oh please, let us have lots of classes together.
"We're in math and French together, and social studies and English. Are you ready for the Cow again?"
Marcia giggled. She and Alex had taken a summer French class together a year ago and suffered through strict Madame Cowper. Marcia had thought about switching to Spanish, which was supposed to be easier anyway, but her father said it would be foolish to waste the French she had already learned, so she'd be in Madame Cowper's company for second period all year. At least Alex would be there with her.
"It's Williams who's supposed to be the real killer," Alex said, still studying Marcia's schedule. "Social studies. She thinks we should all go out and save the world. You're taking art? I didn't know you were into art."
Apparently Alex had never seen Marcia's sketches of him in her math notebook. "I like to draw." She should have taken art last year instead of chorus.
"Let's see how much you like it after Morrison is through with you."
"Is he mean?"
"My sister, Cara, had him. I don't know if you'd call him mean, exactly, but- Well, you'll see."
The bell rang. The sixth graders started running. The seventh graders started walking. The eighth graders stayed in their small groups talking.
"Shall we?" Alex asked. They sauntered into West Creek Middle School together.
First period was math with ancient, doddering Mr. Adams. He spoke in a whispery wheeze that could barely be heard and held on to the chalkboard ledge with his free hand while he wrote on the board with trembling, arthritic fingers. The class, even Alex, was surprisingly well behaved, as if afraid that at any moment he might keel over right in front of them.
"I thought they made teachers retire before they're ninety-five," Alex said to Marcia as they walked down the hall to French.
Marcia giggled again.
Madame Cowper's broad face brightened when she saw them. "Mademoiselle Faitak, Monsieur Ryan, entrez, s'il vous plaît! Come in! Je suis enchantée de vous revoir. I am so happy to see you again!"
Marcia greatly doubted this was true. Alex in particular had been awful throughout Intensive Summer Language Learning two summers ago, and she herself had laughed appreciatively at all his antics, as well as at his jokes about Madame Cowper's stout figure stuffed into snug polyester pantsuits. It would take more than Purple Pizzazz nail polish to deflect the eye from Madame Cowper's plump posterior. But given the events of the last twenty-four hours, jokes about someone's weight didn't seem as funny to Marcia anymore.
By the end of class, Marcia decided that French would be pretty easy, given her head start from the summer class. She remembered quite a bit, even from a year ago. Her father had been right, after all.
Ms. Williams, the third-period social studies teacher, was extremely tall and elegantly slim, in a bright red suit with a crisp white blouse that set off her dark skin. Her erect posture reminded Marcia to suck in her own stomach.
In eighth-grade social studies they would cover civics and debate important, controversial issues of the day, Ms. Williams said. Marcia snuck a sidelong glance at Alex. Would it be more romantic to be debate partners or debate opponents? She didn't know.
"My approach to teaching," Ms. Williams went on, "is centered on service learning. Does anyone know what service learning is?"
No one did, not even Lizzie.
"In service learning," Ms. Williams explained, "students learn through community service. Each of you will engage in one major service project of your own choosing. I expect you to devote three hours a week to it. Of course, this will be in addition to time spent on outside reading, paper writing, and studying for exams."
That was a lot of time to devote to any one subject. Already protesting hands were in the air.
"I'm on a traveling soccer team," one boy said. "We go on the road practically every single weekend. I'm not going to have time to do three hours a week of community service."
"I don't design the requirements of my course to accommodate your extracurricular activities. I expect you to arrange your extracurricular activities to accommodate the requirements of my course."
"But-what if you just can't do it?" the boy asked.
Ms. Williams gave an elaborate shrug of indifference. It was clear that the shrug meant: Then you fail.
Alex's friend Dave asked the next question. "My mom's a single mother. She's too busy to drive me anyplace."
"I have prepared a list of possible service opportunities, many of which are within easy bicycling distance of school."
"What if you don't have a bike?"
Marcia knew that Dave was baiting Ms. Williams now. Dave had a bike. Everyone did, except for Lizzie Archer.
"My experience has been that the vast majority of students have bicycles. If you do not, special arrangements can be made."
Another student raised her hand. "Do we have to do one of the things on your list, or can we think up something on our own?"
Marcia tried to think of possible community service projects that she and Sarah could stand doing. Make a Web site to answer the twenty most frequently asked questions about clothes and makeup? Organize a dating service for socially challenged eighth-grade girls? The dating service would be a good idea, now that Marcia thought about it. She might need it herself if she couldn't get Alex to ask her to the first eighth-grade dance. The dance was the second weekend in October. A lot of girls were going to be getting nervous by the middle of September.
Marcia waited to see what Ms. Williams would say.
"I am open to your ideas," Ms. Williams said, "but any service project you undertake for this course will have to be approved by me."
So much for the fashion Web site and the dating service.
"What if we don't like any of the things on your list, and you don't like any of the things on ours?" That was Alex.
"Then I will choose a project for you."
Marcia envisioned herself assigned something truly horrible, such as picking up litter by the roadside. Or cleaning outhouses in one of the nearby mountain parks. Or helping to feed drooling, senile old people in a nursing home. She and Sarah would have to think of something cool enough to do but noble enough to appeal to Ms. Williams.
Ms. Williams's steely expression softened. "From many years of experience, I predict that 90 percent of you will tell me come May that service learning in this class was the most meaningful and satisfying part of your eighth-grade year."
Marcia had a feeling that she would be among the 10 percent who wouldn't. She certainly hoped so. She hated to think how pathetic her eighth-grade year would be if community service was the best thing in it. She imagined writing in Sarah's yearbook at graduation, "Remember the great time we had in the nursing home?" And Sarah writing in hers, "Wheelchairs forever!"
Fourth period was P.E.; fifth period was lunch; sixth period was English, with exotic Ms. Singpurwalla, whom Marcia had had for English last year. The seventh-period science teacher, Mr. Dorr, told lots of lame jokes. Marcia made a feeble effort to giggle appreciatively.
Marcia was glad she had art eighth period. The best should be saved for last, like dessert after a long, dull meal-not that Marcia should even be thinking about dessert these days.
Mr. Morrison looked like an art teacher, fairly young, bearded, dressed in worn black jeans and a black T-shirt. "Take out your sketch pads," he told the class.
Two kids had forgotten theirs, though "9 x 12 spiral-bound sketch pad" was on the school supply list that had been mailed home over the summer. Mr. Morrison didn't say anything to those students. He simply acted as if they weren't there.
"Draw something," he said.
Marcia opened her brand-new box of colored pencils and selected a pink one. She'd draw a beautiful girl with huge blue eyes and long, swirling blond hair who didn't need to lose five pounds to fit into her favorite shorts.
She started drawing. The picture turned out pretty well. Sometimes Marcia's girls had one eye bigger than the other, or closer to the nose, but this time both eyes were perfect. Marcia added some dark, fringed eyelashes. The only problem with being blond in real life was having light brows and lashes.
"Who's that?" Mr. Morrison asked, looking down over Marcia's shoulder.
What did he mean, who was that? Were they supposed to make up a story to go with their pictures? Marcia wasn't good at making up stories. She wasn't a writer, like Lizzie.
"Just a girl." Marcia knew it was the wrong answer as soon as she said it.
He frowned. "Barbie." When Marcia didn't reply, he went on: "You've drawn Barbie. Same hair, same eyes, same impossible figure."
Marcia gathered from his tone that drawing Barbie was bad. Millions of people around the world loved Barbie. Apparently, Mr. Morrison was not one of them.
"In my class, students do not draw Barbie."
Marcia didn't ask him why not. She didn't want to antagonize a teacher on the first day of school and have him pick on her for the rest of the year.
"What should I draw?" She kept her voice appropriately meek.
He exploded. "Anything!" Well, anything except Barbie. "Draw what you see. Draw the pencil sharpener. Draw the faucet on the sink. Draw the back of the head of the boy in front of you. I'm not going to tell you what to draw!"
He stomped off to glare at somebody else's picture. Marcia tore "Barbie" from her sketch pad and stared at the next blank sheet of paper. She looked at the back of the head of the boy in front of her. There was a pimple on his neck, not covered up by any Jay-Dub vanishing cream.
Between cleaning outhouses for Ms. Williams and drawing pimply necks for Mr. Morrison, eighth grade was going to be terrific.
Excerpted from MAKEOVERS BY MARCIA by Claudia Mills Copyright © 2005 by Claudia Mills. Excerpted by permission.
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