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|Publisher:||Open Road Distribution|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 13 Years|
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By Patricia Wiles
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Patricia Wiles
All rights reserved.
They say your first year of high school is always the worst. No one's ever accused me of being an optimist, so when I entered Sherman County High, I was certain my life as a freshman was going to stink worse than a dead armadillo in a heat wave.
Things had started going downhill several months earlier. After a close encounter with a cottonmouth on the eighth-grade Life Sciences field trip, I had to have my pinky amputated — which made me self-conscious about my right hand. Then over the summer, my best friend Dani became less concerned about grade point averages and more interested in obtaining fuller, thicker lashes. My other best friend Melonhead, once the "What, Me Worry?" Kid, had turned into the Chicken Little of rain forest conservation.
But the clincher came once we were knee-deep in Freshman Honors English, Algebra II, and Advanced Biology. The leaves were turning, and the deer, wild turkeys, and armadillos were out in full force. I was halfway through Volume XXVII of my wildlife journals. Then President Carter — Dani's father and the branch president of our church congregation — stepped into our Sunday School class and dropped the bomb.
"The Armadillo Branch finally has enough youth to hold early-morning seminary classes," he said. Then he stood and grinned at us for a good ten minutes.
What was he waiting for, the Hallelujah Chorus? When the joyful noise didn't happen like he'd hoped, he left the room.
"He should call it early-morning cemetery," Dani muttered. "I'll be dead from lack of sleep."
"Doesn't bother me to get up early," I said. That part was true. It did bother me, though, that I wouldn't get to write in my wildlife journals in the mornings — at least not during the week. So much for my goal of finishing Volume XXXVIII by the end of my freshman year.
"This is all your fault," Dani said to Melonhead. Melonhead — aka Walter Melon — had been baptized a few weeks before, which brought the total number of youth in the branch to a whopping three.
"What do you want me to do?" Melonhead shrugged his shoulders. "Get unbaptized?"
Dani's thick brown hair used to be long and straight, but this year it had more springs in it than a queen-size mattress. "Do you know how early I'll have to get up? It takes forty-five minutes to heat the rollers, brush my hair, roll it up, let it set —"
Melonhead plugged his ears. "Please spare me the details."
"And I need at least thirty minutes to put on makeup."
"I don't know why you want all that goop on your face," I said, thinking I was paying Dani a compliment. "You look fine without it."
Dani glared at me. "The fact is that most guys expect girls to wear goop. I'm a girl, remember? And you and Melonhead are guys. Or maybe you forgot that. So if I have to wear goop, it's not my fault. It's yours." She pointed her perfectly manicured pink fingernail at me, then at Melonhead. "Yours too."
Melonhead banged his head on the wall. "If she keeps this up, I won't have any brain cells left."
Dani dug in her handbag and found a tube of lip color the same color as her nails. She opened her mouth until it looked like a big O, slathered on the pink, then smacked her lips. After a quick check in the mirror, Dani was satisfied. She closed the tube with a triumphant snap and popped it back in her purse.
This was going to be a long year.CHAPTER 2
Up to this point, mornings at the Paramount Funeral Home had been rather routine: turn off alarm at 5:30 A.M., dress for school, carry my folding stool to the back lot, spend a stress-free hour recording animal sightings in my wildlife journal, come in for breakfast, leave for school.
When you're in high school and a Latter-day Saint, however, there's no such thing as free time in the mornings. You rise before the roosters, and before you go to regular school, you go to early-morning seminary — which is like Sunday School, except it's more like school and it's Monday through Friday.
Sister Hooper, our Sunday School teacher, was nice enough. But she ended up being our early-morning seminary teacher too, and it wasn't easy being around her six days a week.
In the first place, she was the Johnny Appleseed of genealogy — always on the lookout for places to drop names so she could grow more family trees. After only two weeks of seminary, it became obvious that she believed she was related to every major character in the Old Testament.
Not only did she enjoy reading all those begats in the OT, she managed to tie in stories about Isaiah Hooper, her husband's great-great-great-great-great grandfather, into every single lesson she taught. To hear her tell it, you'd think Isaiah Hooper was an eyewitness when Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt and when the Red Sea swallowed up Pharaoh's chariots.
The one good thing about Sister Hooper was that she had terrible short-term memory. She'd give us homework, forget to collect it, then feel guilty for forgetting and give us all an A for our trouble. So overall, seminary wasn't hard. All you had to do was show up on time, listen, and read the assigned chapters.
We met at her house most mornings, except on days when she scheduled Cemetery Field Trips. Sister Hooper was the leader of the Granite Girls, a group of women who were helping the Sherman County Genealogy Society record the location of every dead and buried body in the area. Dani, Melonhead, and I got drafted into the Granite Girls. We objected, but Sister Hooper didn't accept my excuse that Melonhead and I were guys and she didn't buy Dani's story that the damp morning air made her curls fall out.
So it wasn't enough for us to be the only teenagers in Sherman County who went to church before school. Thanks to Sister Hooper, we increased the weirdness quotient by doing tombstone rubbings by car headlight at 6:30 A.M. in abandoned graveyards. And for the ultimate humiliation. Sister Hooper made us sing the Granite Girls Anthem to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" during each cemetery visit:
Every tombstone has a name,
They are not all the same.
Some tell birth and death dates too —
So much work to do!
Mausoleums, crypts, and graves —
None are too old to save!
Granite Girls, our job's to spot
We'd finished the books of Abraham and Moses in the Pearl of Great Price and were several chapters into Genesis when Sister Hooper's son, Brian, came home from his extended mission to Brazil. We arrived for class that morning, and Sister Hooper jumped from her chair. "This is him," she said to Brian. She grabbed my arm and dragged me across the room to Brian's seat. "The boy I told you about. I gave him your Book of Mormon."
Two years and four months earlier, he'd just left for the Missionary Training Center when I showed up at Sister Hooper's yard sale. I didn't know Sister Hooper or anything about the Church — other than that my parents had joined several years before I was born. Brian's old Book of Mormon had ended up in a box of stuff, and I'd offered to buy it, but she gave it to me instead.
Brian shook my hand. He had a gentle grip. "I'm glad you were able to use it."
We had an opening prayer, and afterward, Sister Hooper let Brian talk about his mission. When he recited the Articles of Faith in Portuguese, Dani drooled like Brian was some kind of rock star. I wanted to give her a mop and tell her to shut off the waterworks.
Brian passed around a copy of O Livro de Mormon. He showed us on a map where he'd served, and he let us look at his collection of everyday items from Brazil, like newspapers and candy wrappers.
"Are you glad to be home?" I asked.
"I miss the people I taught," Brian said, "but I'm glad to be back in the States."
Melonhead flipped through Brian's photo album. "Didn't you go to the rain forests?" Melonhead had become preoccupied with rain forests over the summer. When his mom renewed their National Geographic subscription, they received a complimentary video called "The Incredible Shrinking Rain Forest." After he watched it, Melonhead got so upset that he wrote a letter to the editor of the Armadillo Courier, calling for a boycott of all local businesses that were contributing to the rain forests' destruction.
"No," Brian said, "I never left Sao Paulo."
Melonhead closed the album. "Too bad. At the rate greedy manufacturers are destroying the rain forests, they'll disappear before you ever get the chance to see them."
Dani groaned. "Is that all you can talk about? A bunch of trees?" She flashed Brian a big smile. Dani had been smiling a lot since she got her braces off. "I'm sure Brian has plans, like going back to college, or dating, or —"
"Dating?" Melonhead slammed the album onto the table. "And you think talking about trees is stupid? You'll think stupid when the last rain forest is gone. Don't you know that thousands of acres of rain forest are vanishing even as we speak? That's way more important than who's going out with whom."
"No, it's not." Dani batted her eyelashes at Brian. Her lashes were thick with mascara and no longer hidden behind wire-framed glasses, since her mom agreed to let her get contact lenses.
Melonhead glared at her. "Yes, it is."
"Cut it out," I said. "It's not worth arguing over."
"And who appointed you Supreme Ruler?" Melonhead's sharp reply stunned me.
Dani nodded. "Walter's right. Who made you the boss?" Why were my friends so snappy all of a sudden? "I'm not trying to boss. I just don't see the point in arguing."
Sister Hooper tried to restore order. "Class —" "The point is," Dani said, "that we don't need you to tell us what to do."
"And I don't need your criticism," I shot back.
"That's enough." Sister Hooper's tone let us know she meant business. "Let's get back to Genesis, where we left off yesterday. Brian can read along with us. Turn to chapter eleven. Walter, begin with verse four."
When it was my turn, I read verse seven. "Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech."
Dani read verse eight. "So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth ..."
The way my friends were acting, I could relate to the people at the Tower of Babel and how they must have felt when everyone began talking in different tongues. Maybe the Lord used lack of sleep to confound their speech. It sure seemed to be working on us.
When Dani finished reading, she chewed her red scripture marking pencil and looked totally bored.
I had no idea why Dani was acting so strange, but then again, I was beginning to wonder if I even understood girls at all.CHAPTER 3
"Stop!" Mom screamed and stomped her right foot as if she were beating a hole through the floor of the truck.
I mashed on the brake, and we skidded to a halt beneath the red light.
Armadillo, Arkansas, had only one traffic signal. It happened to be at the busiest intersection in town. Everyone in Sherman County crossed through it. The Piggly-Wiggly supermarket was on one corner. The other three corners were occupied by the Armadillo Post Office, the Reddy Freddy Fill-M-Up, and the Sherman County Auto Emporium.
We'd spent some time at the Auto Emporium a few days before. Mom and Dad had at last decided it was time to buy a car. We ended up driving home in a clean, used Chevy sedan — royal blue — with low mileage and a nice CD player.
Mom had a bumper sticker she'd been saving for such an occasion. As soon as we got the car home, she slapped it on: My Other Car Is a Hearse.
My parents thought that was the funniest thing they'd ever seen.
I could have explained to them why the bumper sticker wasn't funny, but that wasn't in my best interest, since they'd bought the car for three reasons. One, the ancient family pickup was no longer big enough for the three of us. Two, I was fourteen, soon to be fifteen. Three, I had my official Arkansas learner's permit. If I was going to learn to drive, I had to have some wheels. My parents certainly weren't going to give me the keys to a new car. They didn't even want to take a chance on giving me the keys to a decent used one. The old S-10 was the logical choice.
Mom screamed again, bringing me out of flashback mode. "Move the truck!"
"You told me to stop."
"Not in the middle of the road!"
The light changed. Cars rolled toward us, and I stepped on the gas. The truck lurched forward and then took off. I could smell the burning rubber and hear the chorus of horns cursing at us as we sped away.
Mom had the door handle in a white-knuckle grip. "When you get to the next street, turn right."
"Turn on the blinker."
Hmm. The blinker. I chose a switch at random. The hazard lights flashed.
"The right-turn signal, Kevin. Hit the right-turn signal. Slow down!" She pointed to something beyond the windshield. "This is it. Turn here."
I turned, but forgot to use the brakes.
Mom banged her foot into the floorboard again. "This is a driveway!"
We screeched to a stop. Mom got out and measured the distance between the bumper and the garage door. She got back in the truck and held out her index finger.
"This much space," she said, shaking her finger. "This much space between you and a thousand dollars' worth of damage. And you didn't even turn onto the road. You turned onto a driveway. Do you need glasses?"
"You said turn, so I turned."
Mom put both hands on the dash, threw her head back, and screeched through her clenched teeth. She squeezed her eyes shut, and the veins in her neck pulsed. I put the truck in reverse and backed out of the driveway.
"I can't take it," Mom said. She dumped the groceries out of the Piggly-Wiggly bag. "I'm glad I asked for paper this time instead of plastic."
Mom was so nervous during my last driving lesson that she put a blue plastic WalMart sack over her head. She was able to see through it, though, so it didn't work too well.
This time, the Piggly-Wiggly paper bag was working much better. Mom couldn't see the big trucks as they passed, and she totally missed the stop sign I ran at the edge of town.
When we got back to the Paramount, Marcy was upstairs, setting the table for dinner. "How'd it go, Kev? Any pedestrians left standing?"
"Doesn't anybody think I can drive?"
Marcy laughed. "Lily does."
Lily B was sitting in her playpen. She flapped her arms and threw her plastic Pooh Bear. It bounced across the vinyl floor and landed under the table.
"My life flashes before my eyes every time I get in that truck with him." Mom picked up Pooh, wiped him with a soft cloth, and gave him back to Lily B. "If Kevin's driving doesn't kill me, a heart attack will."
Marcy winked at me. "Let me take him out a few times. My life insurance is paid up."
Dad and Marshall came in the back door.
"What's for dinner?" Marshall asked. "I'm starving."
Dad squirted some dish liquid into his palm and turned on the faucet. He rubbed his hands together until they were covered in soapy suds. "What was the mailbox count for today?"
"Seven on the right, five on the left," Marcy said. "Plus three possums and an armadillo."
"Three possums. That's two more than yesterday. Good job, son."
I picked Lily B up from her playpen. At first, she offered me Pooh, then she giggled and hit me in the head with it. I buckled her into the high chair.
"Someday I'll teach you how to drive, Lily-Billy," I said. She banged Pooh on the tray. "I won't put my head in a Piggly-Wiggly sack, either."
No one said much during dinner, except for Lily B, who protested every spoonful of strained peas by squalling and reaching for our meat loaf and macaroni. Though Marcy tried, most of the peas dribbled out of Lily B's mouth and onto her tray, which Lily B used as a canvas for vegetable finger painting.
By dessert, Mom had recovered from the truck ride, and the color had returned to her cheeks. She insisted that Marcy eat, and she took over feeding the mashed bananas to Lily B. That was the easy job. Lily B would eat baby food bananas all day if you let her. I thought they tasted good too. I tried them once when I was feeding her.
We'd just started on our chocolate pudding parfaits when Marshall spoke up. "We — I mean Marcy and me — want to talk to you about something."
Mom gave Lily B the last bite of the bananas and motioned to me to pick Lily B up. I took her out of the high chair and put her on my lap. Lily B saw this as an opportunity to get her fingers in my parfait glass.
"No, no, Lily-Billy," I said, and scooted the glass away. I scooped up a bit of pudding with her baby spoon and stuck it into her open mouth. Whien I pulled the spoon out, she blew her lips together and spewed pudding all over my shirt.
"We're making plans to move out of the apartment," Marcy said.
Excerpted from Early-Morning Cemetery by Patricia Wiles. Copyright © 2013 Patricia Wiles. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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