About the Author
Jenn Harney is an illustrator and toy designer whose work has been featured in Highlights for Children magazine. Jenn lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband, her daughter, a dog named Steve, and a fish with nine lives.
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2:55 ... 2:55 ... 2:55 ... It was Friday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk in my classroom, and for the last several moments I'd been staring at a broken clock. At least, it seemed like it was broken. Because no matter how long I focused on the minute hand, it wasn't budging. And it was very important that it budged. Because today was the last day of school before summer vacation, and that meant in five minutes there would be no homework, no spelling quizzes, and no more pointless word problems like If Sally hiked for 3.2 miles and Jacob hiked for 1.7 miles, how many miles did they hike altogether? (Answer: 4.9 miles and a suggestion that they go ziplining instead.) The point is, the clock was definitely broken because it still said 2:55.
I sighed and slumped down in my seat. I guessed it was like my mom always said: A watched pot never cooks spaghetti the right way. Or something like that. Maybe it was about rice.
The minute hand lurched forward to 2:56. Finally! Now we were getting somewhere. I fixed my eyes on the clock and was prepared to stare at it for four more minutes without blinking when I was rudely interrupted by my teacher, Mrs. Agnes.
"And, Hazel Bloom, what are your plans for the summer?"
She was eyeing me from the front of the classroom, along with everyone else. Apparently, while I'd been busy staring at the clock my classmates had been going around the room sharing their summer plans. I was not expecting this question, especially because I hadn't worked out the details of my summer plans just yet. Luckily, I have a talent for being quick on my feet.
"Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh," I said.
Okay, maybe not that quick on my feet.
"She's probably just going to hang around her house and do weird stuff like she always does," said a voice behind me. That voice belonged to Luke, and if you think he sounded annoying, you'd be right. This is why I call him Mapefrl, which stands for "most annoying person ever, for real live." Mapefrl has been in my class since kindergarten. He's loud, he's rude, and as you can tell, he's extremely immature. Which is why I started arguing with him on the spot.
"Not true!" I countered. "I have big plans for this summer. BIG PLANS."
"Ooh, what are they?" Mrs. Agnes trilled, as if these amazing plans might include her.
I searched my brain for a reasonable-sounding itinerary. "First, we will be going mountain-climbing on Machu Picchu," I began. "Then to the Sahara Desert for a safari. And then if we survive that, we're scheduled to attend the wedding of a wealthy prince in a faraway country."
"Yeah, right," Mapefrl snickered. "What country?"
I quickly scanned the classroom, my eyes landing on Mrs. Agnes's desk.
"That's not even real!" he said.
Do you see what I mean? So immature (him, not me). The point is, Mapefrl kicked the back of my chair, I fired a spitball at him, and Mrs. Agnes demanded we both come up to the front of the room immediately. I braced myself for one more round of getting in trouble before school was over.
Then the dismissal bell rang.
Suddenly, Mrs. Agnes's stern demeanor melted away. "Goodbye, children. Have a wonderful summer!" she called out as we packed up our things. "Don't forget to read! Keep learning! And if anyone wants to come in over the summer for extra worksheets, just —"
"Bye, Mrs. Agnes! See you next year!" I waved. Then I ran toward the door, where Elizabeth was waiting.CHAPTER 2
We were standing at the edge of the school's front lawn when Elizabeth gave the signal.
"Three ... two ... one ... go!"
At the exact same time we dropped our backpacks, got a running start, and began cartwheeling across the grass. This was something I'd call a "tradition," because we did it on the last day of school every single year. It was also something I'd call "not allowed," because every time we began our cartwheeling celebration, we were immediately chased off the lawn by the school principal, whom I believe a) should have been in her office working instead of outside wagging her finger at us, and b) clearly did not appreciate solid gymnastic skills.
Still, we had gotten in a good fifteen cartwheels between the two of us before we were shooed away. We grabbed our backpacks and skedaddled to the bus, huffing and puffing and cracking up at our crazy last minutes of the school year. And there was no one I'd rather have these crazy last minutes with, because Elizabeth Almeida is my best friend in the entire world. We've known each other since we were born, and we are exactly alike in every way. Except that she loves performing and I don't. And she's extremely organized and I'm not. Also, Elizabeth hates watermelon, while I think it is the most perfect food in the universe. But other than that, totally alike.
After the bus ride home, we walked down the hill toward our separate streets and gabbed about how much fun this summer was going to be. Elizabeth would be starting theater camp next week (thankfully, it was day camp, so I'd still see her every day). And me? I wasn't actually going to a royal wedding, or on a safari, or to Machu Picchu, but I was still super excited. Because I now officially had a loooong, empty stretch of summer to do anything I wanted. I was free. FREE.
* * *
I. Was. So. Bored.
I mean, don't get me wrong. The first full day of summer break started out great. I woke up early and took my dog, Mr. Cheese, for a walk. After that, I invented a snack made of cucumbers, pretzels, and Jell-O (surprisingly tasty). Then I washed my hair and dried it with a blow dryer, which I thought turned out very nice — until my baby brother, who we call "The Baby," saw me, pointed, and howled in fear, which I felt was a little overdramatic. Still, it had been a jam-packed, adventurous beginning of summer and I was ready to call it a day. Then I noticed the clock. It was 9:30 in the morning. I called Elizabeth but remembered she was shopping for tap shoes with her mom. What could I do now?
Just then my older brother, Milo (who was the second-most-annoying person after Mapefrl), burst out of his room bouncing a soccer ball on his knee.
"Think fast, Stinkface!" Milo said, faking me out by pretending to toss me the ball only to grab it back to his chest and causing me to duck in panic.
"Ha-ha, very funny. So ... want to do something?" To be clear, I wouldn't normally choose to interact with such a ridiculously annoying human, but, hey, I was desperate.
"Can't. A bunch of guys are getting together for a game in the park. See ya, wouldn't want to be ya!"
He pushed past me (annoying!), grabbed a cucumber slice from my invented snack (so annoying!), and raced out the door — just as Mom came scurrying down the hallway, her arms full of laundry.
I chased her into her bedroom.
"Mom! Want to play a game?"
Mom dumped the ginormous pile of laundry on her bed. "I'm sorry, Hazel Basil, but I've got to pack. We're leaving the day after tomorrow!"
She was referring to her and Dad's trip to France. They were going for ten days, and my Aunt Jenna was coming to take care of me and Milo and The Baby. Mom's suitcase was sprawled out on her bed, filled to the brim. I'd never been to France, or near France, and didn't know that much about France, but I still think it was worth asking why Mom needed to pack four different pairs of white sneakers. So I did.
She didn't answer and was now muttering about having enough socks, so it was pretty clear she wasn't available to cure my boredom. I thought about finding Dad until I remembered that he was cleaning out the garage. (Also, his idea of fun was teaching me the difference between a skillet and a wok, which is nothing I ever needed to know.)
I went into the living room and called Elizabeth again. No answer.
This was becoming a crisis, as now there was no one left to play with at all.
I looked down. It was The Baby. He had apparently waddled away from my mom's room during her sock-muttering.
"Doo-doo!" he said again, and plopped down on the floor.
I scrunched up my face, wondering if he was offering to play or telling me he needed a diaper change. I decided it was the first one.
I crouched down to his level, covered my eyes, and then popped them open. "Peekaboo!"
The Baby cracked up so hard, he lost his balance while sitting on the floor and knocked into my nose with his extremely hard baby head.
"Ouch!" I grimaced. I was done playing with him.
I delivered The Baby back to my mom then slouched off to the kitchen, where everyone would be able to hear me if I started to literally die from boredom.
I stood in the middle of the floor and sighed loudly. "Soooo bored. Sooooooooooo bored. SOOOOOOOOOO —"
Dad walked in from the garage, tripped over the dog (something he does a lot), and then went to the sink to wash his hands. "If you're that bored, Hazel, I can give you plenty of things to do. Empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage, wash The Baby's bottles ..."
As I was gasping in horror at these awful ideas, the phone rang. It was Elizabeth, back from shopping and calling to announce that she was having a First Day of Summer Sleepover Party. Tonight.
"Woohoo! That's the best news I've heard since sliced bread!"
"That's not the expression, but I'll see you later."
I hung up the phone.
Dad was now making himself a bowl of cereal and still going on with his suggested to-do list for me. "Sort the recycling, scrub the downstairs bathroom, scrub the upstairs bathroom —"
"Sorry, I'm going to a sleepover at Elizabeth's!" I called out. I raced to my room before Dad had a chance to point out it was only 9:45 in the morning. I wasn't sure how I'd spend an entire day getting ready for a sleepover, but Iwas willing to try. Anything to avoid washing The Baby's bottles. Ew, so slobbery.
I was attempting to create a comfortable yet fashion-forward pajama outfit (unicorn nightgown, heart leggings, and fuzzy bunny slippers) when it happened. I suddenly felt prickles and goose bumps, and my skin got hot and cold at the same time. And then an image of a pickle with arms, and the letter T flashed through my head. Now, you might be thinking, Weird, with a cherry on top! Who knows what that's all about, for real live! But I knew.
It was a tomorrow vision.CHAPTER 3
In the whirlwind of emotion surrounding my first day of summer vacation (utter excitement followed by intense boredom followed by renewed hope and inspiration), I may have forgotten to mention that I have a special ability I call tomorrow power. This means I get visions of things that always come true the next day. Sometimes the visions are perfectly clear, while other times they're as fuzzy as a caterpillar wearing a wool sweater and slippers (not a vision I've ever had but would be very open to). The point is, Elizabeth thinks my special ability means I'm a superhero, which makes her my sidekick, so, obviously, I needed to tell her about my newest vision ASAP.
When I got to her house, our friends Summer and May were already there. We squealed at the top of our lungs like we hadn't seen each other in years, even though school had ended yesterday. Elizabeth immediately ushered us to her room for pillowcase decorating, and it wasn't until several activities later that I realized I still hadn't told her about my vision. But whenever I tried to get her alone, she'd get distracted and scamper off somewhere. So, after many unsuccessful attempts, I decided I needed to get her attention in some more creative ways.
This did not go well.
When we were all eating pizza, I was going to whisper to her about my vision, but May squeezed in between us and knocked my pizza slice onto the floor. When we were putting on a talent show I mouthed, "T.P.," for "tomorrow power," but Elizabeth thought I meant "toilet paper" and went to get some new rolls for the bathroom. Later, while we were playing charades, I mimed a clue that I hoped Elizabeth would understand as "I need to talk to you in private, now!" But instead she guessed, "Chicken cutlet robot foot?" which was not even remotely close.
It wasn't until bedtime, as everyone was setting up their sleeping bags, that I finally found Elizabeth by herself. She was in the bathroom brushing her teeth, and while I admit she may have deserved some privacy, I seriously couldn't wait any longer.
"I had a vision!" I whispered to her.
Her reply was hard to understand:
Elizabeth realized she still had a bunch of toothpaste in her mouth, spit it out, then asked again.
"What was it?"
I told her about the pickle with arms and the letter T.
Like the expert sidekick she was, she thoughtfully wiped her mouth with a towel. "Hmm. That is a tricky one. Maybe you're going to the grocery store for pickles? Or a pickle farm?"
"A pickle farm?"
She gasped. "Maybe it's a pickle costume that I'll be wearing for my play at theater camp!"
Personally, I thought this interpretation was a bit of a stretch. But I also understood that even though my tomorrow visions were always super exciting to Elizabeth, there was only one thing on her mind right now, and that was theater camp.
"And then I'll have a pickle tap routine like this!"
I wasn't sure how we got from discussing my tomorrow vision to Elizabeth performing a shuffle-hop-step in her bathroom, but it was obvious I wasn't going to figure anything out tonight.
I applauded her routine (which was actually pretty impressive, considering she did it in socks), then joined my friends on the floor. Everyone was going around in a circle telling ghost stories, which in my opinion was the very best part of sleepovers.
"Okay, I have one," said Summer, her eyes all mysterious-like. "It's a true story about a ghost who lived in an empty house. And whenever someone would walk by, the lights in the house would flicker, and a great big gust of wind would scare people away." She lowered her voice. "One day, a kid decided to get rid of the ghost. That night — when the clock struck midnight — he snuck into the house, all by himself."
I felt my pulse quicken.
"Did he do it? Did he get rid of the ghost?" May asked, her voice squeaky.
Summer paused dramatically. "Yes, he did," she said. "The ghost was never seen or heard from again." She leaned in. "And neither was the kid."
We all gulped.
"Or maybe his family moved to Hawaii. I can't really remember how it ended. But it's totally a true story."
We all burst into giggles. And those giggles continued for the next hour, until Elizabeth's mom popped her head in and said it was officially bedtime and please no more giggling. Then she left and we giggled some more before one by one we drifted off to sleep.CHAPTER 4
After an extremely delicious breakfast the next morning (Elizabeth's mom should open up a chocolate chip pancake restaurant, for real live), I decided it was time to make Big Summer Plans with all of my friends. Don't get me wrong, the sleepover was a great start. But that was just one night. I still had 103 days of summer left to go.
This turned out to be a disaster times eleven million. Because that's when I found out that every one of my friends had their own Big Summer Plans, and none of them involved me. Elizabeth, of course, was going to theater camp. May was visiting her grandparents in Kansas City — which was not in Kansas but in Missouri. And Summer was going to sleepaway camp in Missouri City — which was not in Missouri but in Texas. The point is, I believe these cities should relocate so it isn't so confusing. Also, it was now clear that I had NO ONE to hang out with this summer. Even Mom and Dad were going away on a whirlwind adventure in France. I had been so excited about my Big Summer Plans, but now the only one without plans was me.
When I got back home later that morning, I took Mr. Cheese for a walk and started thinking up ways to feel sorry for myself, given that this was going to be the worst summer ever. As we passed in front of the Thibodeauxs' house, which was next to ours, I wondered if maybe I could hang out with them, until I realized that Mr. and Mrs. Thibodeaux were about eighty years old, so I wasn't sure what activities we'd agree on. Also, I remembered that they went to visit their grandchildren each year for the entire summer, so they weren't around anyway. That must have been why their porch light was on in the middle of the day — so possible burglars would think they were home. The Thibodeauxs may have been old, but you can't say they weren't clever.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hazy Bloom and the Mystery Next Door"
Copyright © 2019 Jennifer Hamburg.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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