Read an Excerpt
Dedicated to the original Corn Flake Girls of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania: Brittany, Stephanie M., Lorraine, Jenny, Allison, Sarah, Julie, Stephanie R., Lauren, Lindsay, and Amanda.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ---2 Corinthians 4:18
1 Sophie---hel-lo-o! I'm speaking to you!' I know, thought Sophie LaCroix, but could you please stop? I can hardly think what to do next! Here I am in a strange country---I can't seem to find my trunk, and---
'Sophie! Answer me!' And could you please not call me 'Sophie'? I'm Antoinette---from France.
'Are you all right?' Sophie felt hands clamp onto her elflike shoulders, and she looked up into the frowning face of Ms. Quelling, her sixth-grade social studies teacher. Sophie blinked her M&M-shaped eyes behind her glasses and sent the imaginary Antoinette scurrying back into her mind-world.
'Are you all right?' Ms. Quelling said again.
'Yes, ma'am,' Sophie said.
'Then why didn't you answer me? I thought you were going into a coma, child.' Ms. Quelling gave a too-big sigh. 'Why do I even plan field trips?'
Sophie wasn't sure whether to answer that or not. She had only been in Ms. Quelling's class a month. In fact, she'd only been in Great Marsh Elementary School for a month.
'So answer my question,' Ms. Quelling said. 'Do you or don't you have a buddy in your group?'
'No, ma'am,' Sophie said. She wasn't quite sure who was even in her field trip group.
'You're in the Patriots' Group.' Ms. Quelling frowned over her clipboard, the skin between her eyebrows twisting into a backwards S. 'Everybody in that group has a buddy except Maggie LaQuita---so I guess that's a no-brainer. Maggie, Sophie is your buddy. LaQuita and LaCroix, you two can be the La-La's.'
Ms. Quelling rocked her head back and forth, sending her thick bronze hair bouncing off the sides of her face. She looked very pleased with her funny self.
But the stocky, black-haired girl who stepped up to them didn't seem to think it was the least bit hilarious. Sophie recognized Maggie from language arts class. She drilled her deep brown eyes into Ms. Quelling and then into Sophie.
Don't look at me, Sophie wanted to say out loud. I don't want to be La-La either. I am Antoinette!
Although, Sophie thought, this Maggie person could fit right in. She looks like she's from a faraway kingdom, maybe Spain or some other romantic land. She can't be 'Maggie' though, Sophie decided. She had to be Magdalena, a runaway princess.
Magdalena glanced over her shoulder as she knelt to retrieve the leather satchel, stuffed with her most precious possessions---
'So are you getting on the bus or what?'
Maggie's voice dropped each word with a thud. She hiked her leather backpack over her shoulder and gave Sophie a push in the back that propelled tiny Sophie toward the steps.
'Sit here,' Maggie said.
She shoved Sophie into a seat three rows back from the driver and fell in beside her. In front of them, the other four Patriots fell into seats and stuffed their backpacks underneath. They twisted and turned to inspect the bus. Somebody's mother stood in the aisle with Ms. Quelling and counted heads.
'I have my six Patriots!' she sang out, smiling at their teacher. 'Two boys, four girls!'
'Eddie and Colton, settle down!' Ms. Quelling said to the boys seated between the two pairs of girls. Eddie burrowed his knuckles into Colton's ball cap, and Colton grabbed the spike of sandy hair rising from Eddie's forehead.
'Dude,' Maggie muttered. 'I'm stuck in the loser group again.'
Sophie squinted at Maggie. 'I thought we were the Patriots.'
'They just call us that so we won't know we're in the loser group.'
'Oh,' Sophie said.
She craned her neck to see over Colton and Eddie's heads and get a look at the other two Patriots. The girl with butter-blonde hair squirmed around in her seat to gaze longingly toward the back of the bus.
SHE hates being in the loser group too, Sophie thought. Actually she was pretty sure the girl, whose name she knew was B.J., hadn't lost anything but her usual knot of friends. She and three other girls always walked together as if they were attached with Superglue.
B.J.'s lower lip stuck out like the seat of a sofa. Next to her sat a girl with a bouncy black ponytail. Ponytail Girl tugged at the back of B.J.'s T-shirt that read Great Marsh Elementary School---the same maroon one they were all wearing. Sophie had selected a long skirt with daisies on it to wear with hers, as well as her hooded sweatshirt. She always felt most like Antoinette when she was wearing a hood.
B.J. leaned further into the aisle. The only thing holding her onto the seat was the grip Ponytail Girl had on her.
'B.J., you're going to be on the floor any minute,' said Chaperone Mom. 'How about you scoot yourself right back up next to Kitty?'
'What?' B.J. said. She whirled around to Kitty and yanked her shirt away.
'B.J., what's the problem?' Ms. Quelling said from further down the aisle.
B.J.'s sofa lip extended into a foldout couch. 'If I could just be with my friends in the Colonists Group---'
'And if ants could just have machine guns, we wouldn't step on them!' Ms. Quelling said.
'But they don't,' Maggie said.
'Exactly.' Ms. Quelling stretched her neck at B.J. over the top of the clipboard pressed to her chest. 'I separated you because y'all talk too much, and you won't hear a word your guide says. You show me my best B.J., and we'll see about next time.' She smiled like she and B.J. were old pals. 'You can start by hiking yourself onto the seat before you break your neck.'
As Ms. Quelling moved down the aisle, Chaperone Mom stepped into her place.
'Maybe you'll make some new friends today, B.J.,' she said.
'I'll be your friend!' Kitty piped up.
B.J. glanced at her over her shoulder. 'No offense or anything,' she said. 'But I already have friends.'
Chaperone Mom gasped. 'Now, that isn't nice!' She patted B.J. on the head and continued down the aisle.
'Busted,' said Colton, wiggling his ears at B.J. Eddie let out a guffaw, and Colton punched him in the stomach.
'Boys are so lame,' Maggie said. Her words placed themselves in a solid straight line, like fact blocks you couldn't possibly knock over. She looked at Sophie. 'How come you hardly ever say anything?'
Sophie pulled her hood over her head, in spite of the Virginiahumid air. She wasn't sure when she could have squeezed a word into the conversation. Besides, she'd been too busy trying to figure out the possibilities.
For instance, what did 'B.J.' stand for? Bambi Jo? Probably more like Bad Jerky. B.J. looked as if she had just eaten some and was about to cough it back up.
And what about that Kitty person with the freckles? She must be Katherine, kept locked away in a tower, and she's so desperate to escape she clings to anyone she can reach. I'll save you! Rescue is my mission in life!
Antoinette tucked her long tresses beneath the hood of her dark cloak as she crept to the castle wall and gazed up at the tower.
'What are you looking at?'
Maggie's voice dropped on Sophie's daydream like a cement block. Sophie blinked at the bus ceiling above her.
'You think it's going to rain in here or what?' Maggie said. 'I think you're a little strange.'
'That's OK,' Sophie said as she pushed back her hood. 'Most people think I'm strange. My sister says I'm an alien from Planet Weird.'
'Is that your real voice?' Maggie said.
Sophie didn't have a chance to tell her that, yes, the pipsqueak voice was the real thing, because the bus lurched forward and all its occupants squealed.
'Colonial Williamsburg, here we come!' Chaperone Mom shouted over the squeal-a-thon.
B.J. whirled again, her eyes fixed on the back of the bus like a jealous cat's.