The Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club
By Catherine Stier
ALBERT WHITMAN & Company Copyright © 2009 Catherine Stier
All rights reserved.
Josh Bendle, Bogus Super Fan
Tell-All Question 5: What sports do you totally love to play?
Josh stood in his driveway, shivering.
This one, I'll make.
He eyed the basket mounted over the garage door. If he could sink it, finally sink it, he would have earned what he craved: rest, warmth, relief.
Josh tried to steady his shaking body. The basketball arced, hit the edge of the rim and ricocheted away. Josh had to chase it down his icy driveway.
Josh had never been a basketball fan, not even a sports fan, really. But ever since they installed outdoor basketball nets at school last summer, that was all the fifth-grade boys did at lunchtime. Even now, in February, with boots and heavy jackets weighing them down, the boys played endless games of basketball. And Josh was tired of being the worst on the court.
Well, not the worst, maybe, he thought. But pretty bad. Not like that kid in his class, T.J. Mariani. T.J. had such incredible natural talent that he could toss the ball and sink it while hardly glancing at the net at all.
This time, Josh tried flinging the ball from the end of his driveway, practicing his three-pointers. The ball missed by a mile, clanging against a gutter. Not even close. Josh sighed. He was on basket number nine. Just one more to go, one more, and he could walk through the front door, nuke himself a cup of hot chocolate, and wrap his fingers around the steaming cup until they thawed.
And what had brought on all this self-torture? A promise he had made to himself.
Months ago, Josh had vowed he'd shoot till he made ten baskets, every day after school. No matter the weather. And on weekends, too. He had pretty much stuck to the bargain he'd struck with himself.
Funny thing, though. Ever since he started, Josh had heard that the whole neighborhood thought he was a basketball nut, some kind of super fan. His family seemed to think so, too. For his birthday two weeks ago, his relatives had given him basketball team jerseys, a basketball player bobble head, and all kinds of other basketball gear.
Really, Josh hated basketball.
He hated the feeling that he was being forced to become an expert at something he couldn't care less about. Just to fit in. There were only about a thousand things he'd rather be doing right now. Even homework was better — way better — than shooting baskets.
But who wanted to be tormented every day at lunch recess for being completely hopeless on the court, all year long?
Josh aimed again at the net.
He shot, missed again.
Grumbling under his breath, he turned to chase the ball — and bumped into Anne Park.
At least, he thought it was Anne. Whoever it was, she was so bundled up he could see only two big brown eyes above a big pink scarf.
"Uhhh ... sorry," Josh said. The girl pulled down her scarf and smiled. It was Anne, after all. She was a friend, a fifth-grader like he was, but in a different classroom.
"That's okay," said Anne. "You're sure practicing a lot."
Josh felt his cheeks grow hot. How many missed shots had Anne seen as she came down the walk? "Yeah," Josh mumbled, then to change the subject, "You going to Kiley's?"
He tipped his head toward the house next door.
Anne nodded. "We're going to work on homework together. And valentines."
"Oh," said Josh. "Okay."
He didn't know what else to say. But Anne still stood there.
She was still standing there when Josh heard the automatic garage door motor begin to rumble. Anne suddenly spoke in a rush over the noise. "Did Kiley tell you about the club she's starting ..."
Josh barely heard her words because he was turning, turning toward the rumbling, turning toward the opening garage door. Then he cringed. Steve-O stood there. Big, sloppy, sneering Steve-O. Steve-O was the worst sixth-grader in all of Harper Lee Elementary — and, as luck would have it, Josh's big brother.
Josh knew what was coming.
"Am I interrupting something?" asked Steve-O, in a mocking baby-voice. "Were you and Annie-poo having a little lovey-dovey chat?"
Josh could feel his face grow even hotter.
"Gotta go," blurted Anne, and she turned quickly toward Kiley's house.
"Geez. Can you be more obvious? You soooo like her," Steve-O accused, none too quietly.
"Nah," Josh growled.
"Yeah, you do. You should see your face! It's all red," Steve-O said.
"I told you, I don't like her," Josh snapped back.
"I think you're in love with Annie-poo!"
Shut up, thought Josh, Shut up, shut up, shut up. But he shouted, "Clam it, Steve-O. I can hardly stand her!"
As soon as the words sputtered out of his mouth, Josh regretted them. He had only wanted to quiet Steve-O. He didn't mean a word of it. Anne was nice — he liked Anne, really he did. He turned and saw Anne hurrying up Kiley's front steps, and felt a sickening little twist in his stomach.
Did Anne hear Steve-O? he wondered.
Did she hear me?
Could she hear anything through that big pink scarf?
Anne Park, Perfect Poser
Tell-All Question 18: Who is your BFF?
Anne flew into Kiley's house as soon as Kiley opened the door. Anne knew her face must have turned pale, as it always did when she was upset. She hoped Kiley wouldn't notice. She did, of course.
"What's up with you? You look sick," Kiley said, shoving the door closed against the cold.
"Nothing," Anne answered quickly. "Hey, I've been thinking. You know that idea you had, to start a club again? And this time to invite boys to join? Maybe ... maybe that's not such a great idea."
Kiley shrugged. "Just thought it would make things more interesting to have T.J. and some other guys around. And you're the one who suggested we ask Josh, that basketball nut neighbor of mine," she reminded her. "But whatever. Did you bring your books, Anne? And your valentines? We can sign them after homework."
"Yeah." Anne kicked off her boots in the foyer, unwrapped her pink scarf, and pulled off her hat. Her black shiny hair tumbled down her back.
Kiley shook her head at her. "You know, whenever I pull off a hat, all my hair sticks straight up in a static nightmare," said Kiley, touching her own shorter blond cut. "How did you get such perfect hair?"
Anne reached a hand back to her hair, almost embarrassed. "Oh, it's not perfect."
"Definitely perfect," Kiley said. "Well, c'mon. Let's go tackle that homework. Mr. Garcia really dumped it on us today."
"Yeah, my teacher did, too," said Anne.
Anne shrugged off her coat and followed Kiley as her mind tried to shrug off something else.
It wouldn't have hurt so much if it had been anyone else who yelled that awful thing, Anne thought. She still heard, echoing in her head, those terrible words: Clam it, Steve-O. I can hardly stand her! But not Josh. Not Josh Bendle.
As Kiley spread her books on the kitchen table, Anne struggled to keep from crying.
Anne remembered how when she had moved to this town in third grade, hardly anyone had been nice to her. Not that anyone had been mean, either. They just hadn't noticed her.
But Josh saw her on the very first day in the hallway at Harper Lee Elementary. Anne was so nervous about being new that she had gotten sick to her stomach. Her teacher had sent her to the nurse's office. Only, when she left the classroom, Anne didn't know where the nurse's office was. Too embarrassed to return to class, she stood there, looking blankly around the hall like a lost kindergartner. Then this dark-haired, green-eyed boy had come walking toward her.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
"No," she said. "I need to see the nurse."
"Whoa," he said simply. "Follow me." And she had. He led her to the little nurse's room tucked, as Anne figured she should have guessed, inside the main office.
And after that, they talked at recess and she found out his name was Josh, Josh Bendle, and he seemed so kind. She learned they were in the same grade, just different classes. They lived pretty close, too. And, after that first day, they sometimes walked to school together.
Then something really weird happened. Anne's mother talked Anne into letting her hair grow long the summer before fifth grade. So Anne had. But who knew it would grow so fast, and come in all shiny, and fall down her back like some kind of silky curtain? Suddenly, people began noticing Anne. People who had never really bothered with her before. Popular kids. People like Kiley.
Secretly, Anne wasn't completely comfortable with this new popularity. Sometimes Anne felt like she was just pretending to be one of Kiley's crowd. And a tiny part of her couldn't help wondering if all it would take to make her new friends disappear was one bad haircut.
Josh, though, had been different. He had been a real friend, before the others had suddenly started paying attention to her. He had always been someone she could count on. Or so she had thought till five minutes ago.
Suddenly Kiley slammed her book shut, and Anne jumped.
"I see you're not interested in division now," said Kiley. "And I agree. Sooo ..." Kiley's eyebrows lifted. "Let's talk about our club," she said.
"I think we need to make this club something different, something special."
"Different?" Anne asked cautiously. "What kind of different?"
Kiley's mom walked in the room then, the cordless phone tucked between her chin and shoulder. She turned to load a few glasses into the dishwasher.
Kiley's mom nodded her head as she spoke into the receiver. "Yeah, the book's okay. Not exactly material for our book club," she said. "More like a Hollywood tell-all. Lots of secrets spilled."
Anne watched Kiley's eyes grow wide at her mom's words.
"That's it," Kiley whispered. "A Tell-All Club!"
Kiley Dryden, Sly Spy
Tell-All Question 23: What is your least favorite holiday?
Two days later, Kiley watched a pink gift bow fall to the floor. "Oh, Hunter," her sister Ginger squealed. "You are too sweet!" Then Kiley heard kissy-kissy sounds.
From where she crouched under the dining room table, Kiley could only see her sister's legs and Hunter's jeans hanging out from under the tablecloth — and their shoes, of course. Although they sat in different chairs, Hunter's sneakered foot was mashed right next to one of Ginger's ballet flats.
It was Valentine's Day. The first Valentine's Day that Ginger, now sixteen, had a "real" boyfriend. When Hunter came to their house with two presents sloppily wrapped in white tissue printed with red hearts, Kiley had been chased out of the dining room. But Kiley had crawled back in on her hands and knees and hidden under the dining room table. This was just too good to be missed.
Now she heard a rustling, the sound of tissue paper being moved aside. "Oh, Hunter. It's sooo cute," Ginger cooed. Kiley watched Ginger plop something onto her lap. She could just make it out — an adorable stuffed animal, a dark brown teddy bear wearing a red ribbon with gold letters. "To My Honey," the letters spelled out. Kiley silently sighed. Would anyone ever give her such a wonderful Valentine's Day present?
Suddenly, Ginger shifted her weight. As she moved, her foot came crashing into Kiley as she crouched in her hiding place.
"Who's there?" Ginger hollered. The tablecloth flew up, and Kiley found herself eye to eye with her furious sister.
"Get out of here you, little fungus," her sister said in a deadly voice. And Kiley took off, scurrying out from under the table. But as she careened out of the dining room, Kiley took one last backward glance and saw that her sister was also clutching a big, red gorgeous heart-shaped box of chocolates topped with a gigantic bow.
Kiley headed inside her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. She flopped on the floor and stared glumly at the ceiling. Then she reached into the bag of valentines she'd received that afternoon at the class Valentine's Day party. Slowly she unfolded the valentines from her classmates. The first one was from her next-door neighbor. He had signed the sports-designed valentine simply "Josh" and had taped on a wrapped piece of bubble gum. Good old Josh, Kiley thought as she unfastened, then unwrapped the gum and popped it in her mouth.
Kiley reached for another valentine, then another. This is stupid, she thought as she pulled each tiny envelope from the bag. Not a single person had written anything on the valentine but his or her own name. The words preprinted on the cards sounded all sweet and romantic, but didn't mean a thing — Valentine, will you be mine? — since everyone knew the same message was sent to every single person in the class.
Kiley crumpled up the bag of valentines and pitched it across the room.
She fell backwards onto the carpeting, chewing furiously on the gum, and thought about her sister. Lucky Ginger. She had a boyfriend, even if Hunter was kind of dopey, in a puppy dog kind of way. He did have a cool name. Hunter. And Ginger sure got some great Valentine presents.
Then Kiley thought about the boys she knew in the fifth grade.
There was Josh, of course, practically like a pesky brother. She had known him since they were both in strollers.
There were those other boys she had thought about inviting to join her new club ... Marco and Dave and ... T.J.
Kiley sat up suddenly. Hey, what about T.J.? she thought with a jolt. He sometimes got in trouble at school, but she had worked with him on a colonial village project in class, and he had been kind of nice.
He was sort of cute — tall, and he had that longish hair.
He did have a cool name. Better than Hunter.
Hmm, thought Kiley. T.J. Hmmm ...
T.J. Mariani, Known Troublemaker
Tell-All Question 30: What one thing about you would surprise people if they found out about it?
T.J. scowled as he pulled two crumpled notes from his backpack and threw them on the kitchen table. The first note, the one on white paper, came from that girl in his class, Kiley. Something about a club she was starting, and did he want to be part of it. Sure, thought T.J. I'll be in Kiley's club. Why not?
The second note, though, made him mad. He pushed his long hair back from his forehead and stared at the crumpled blue sheet. Everyone in the whole fifth grade had gotten the same note that morning. And they had all acted like they had just won some big prize from a radio station or the lottery or something.
"Cool," Josh, a kid who sat at his table in Mr. Garcia's class, had said. "This is going to be so awesome."
Kiley had even squealed so loud it hurt T.J.'s ears. "Oh, man, we are sooo lucky! I hope Anne and I get assigned to the same cabin! It will be like a long, long sleepover!"
Usually at lunchtime recess, the guys played basketball outside, and T.J. could almost always count on sinking the most shots and coming back from the chill air into the warm school all revved up. Today, though, it had been different. Today at lunch recess the guys had just stood around talking about that note. No one had even touched a basketball.
But T.J. thought the whole thing stunk. Big time.
Who was the genius who thought the entire fifth-grade class should leave Illinois and go to some Camp Kindred Spirits in Wisconsin this year and stay for four days? The school had never done anything like this before. So why start this year? With this class?
"Outdoor Education," they called it. "A chance to enjoy an out-of-classroom learning experience for four days," the note said. But four days meant something else. It meant three nights. Three nights sleeping in some group cabin. Away from home.
T.J. slumped down at the kitchen table in front of the two crumpled notes and sighed.
"What have you got there?" his grandmother asked, coming into the room with a basket of sweet-smelling laundry. "T.J., nothing bad happened today, did it? You didn't get another detention?"
T.J. handed her the camp note. "I'm not going," he announced.
His grandmother set down the laundry basket, reached for the rumpled blue sheet, and scanned the note.
"Ahhhh ..." she began.
"I'm not going," T.J. repeated.
"Don't jump to a decision yet," said his grandmother gently. "Let's think about this. Let's talk about this."
T.J. shrugged, grabbed his backpack, and headed to his room.
What was there to think about? What was there to talk about?
Twice he had stayed somewhere overnight, somewhere away from home.
And twice something terrible had happened. Not to him, exactly, but ...
It had made him vow never to sleep overnight away from home again.
He wasn't going to the fifth-grade camp.
And that was that. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club by Catherine Stier. Copyright © 2009 Catherine Stier. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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