Read an Excerpt
From the Files of Madison Finn, Book 9
By Laura Dower
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Laura Dower
All rights reserved.
Madison folded a piece of pink construction paper into a fan. Waving it at her face, she tried to concentrate on her new computer file.
It wasn't easy.
Summer So Far
I don't mind it when vacation is too hot to handle. But who made it eighty degrees in my bedroom?
Pant. Pant. Pant. Pant.
Her dog, Phin, sprawled with his paws stretched out on her bedroom floor. Even he needed to cool off.
"Hang in there, Phinnie," Madison said, scratching the top of his head to calm him down. But he scooted under the bed, tail wagging and tongue flapping.
Pant. Pant. Pant. Pant.
"Mom!" Madison yelled, rising from the desk chair in her bedroom and walking over to the staircase. "MO-O-O-O-OM!"
School wasn't the only thing out for summer.
The Finn cooling system was out, too.
Mom appeared at the bottom of the stairs, wiping her hands on a towel. "How many times do I have to say this," she started to lecture. "I don't want you screaming at me from upstairs. Please come find me if you want to talk."
"Mom, I'm absolutely dying in my room," Madison moaned, still fanning her face. "It's like an oven up here. Even Phinnie's hot."
"I told you the AC repairman will be coming over as soon as he can," Mom explained. "Why don't you bring your laptop downstairs? It's much cooler down here in the kitchen."
Madison didn't feel like moving anywhere, especially not to the kitchen. That was no place to write in her files! She needed to be in her own room with her own stuff. She turned back toward her room and opened the window a crack.
The laptop cursor was blinking, so she started to type again.
Although I am suffering from broken-air-conditioner heatstroke right now, I'll live. After all, we got out of school almost a week ago and it is AWESOME to have all this free time again.
Since the last day of school my BFFs and I have been talking a lot. Aimee is going to dance camp soon like she does every summer, but luckily she has a few more weeks at home. Fiona goes to soccer camp right after the Fourth of July.
On our first summer weekend together, Fiona had a sleepover in her backyard & that was wicked nice. Her dad got this hiking tent and we set it up outside. No bugs could get in, which was a good thing. I really, REALLY hate mosquitoes. We sat up half the night, eating marshmallows and talking in the dark, mostly about boys—of course! But I have decided that I won't EVER reveal my crush on Hart Jones, not even to them even though they are my BFFs. I'm just not ready to admit out loud that I like him. What if he finds out?
While we were at Fiona's, another cool thing happened. Aimee dragged the three of us outside the tent to look at stars and the sky was all speckled and beautiful. We stood there in the moonlight while she pointed out all the constellations.
I'm getting VERY jazzed about the upcoming Fourth of July celebration in Far Hills. It's supposed to be the biggest one ever.
I am soooo there. We ALL will be there. Even Hart. I hope.
Madison sat back in her chair and sighed. She felt sweatier than sweaty. As she sat there fanning herself, the computer's sleep function clicked on automatically. A brand-new screen saver appeared.
Glug. Glug. Glug. Glug.
Earlier in the day, Madison had downloaded a special summer screen saver program that featured bright tropical fish. The screen made noises as fish swam across the screen: underwater bubbles bubbled, water splashed, and the fish went glug. It was a little like the home page on her favorite website, TweenBlurt.com.
Madison clicked the space bar on the keyboard. A window appeared that said: "WHAT IS YOUR PASSWORD?" She entered her supersecret password, logged online, and went immediately into her personal e-mailbox. One piece of mail was waiting there, sent by someone very important: Madison's keypal Bigwheels. Madison knew that Bigwheels wasn't writing from her home computer. Her whole family was on a summer road trip down the West Coast of the USA.
Madison wondered: If her parents hadn't gotten divorced, then would she be traveling in a camper across the country, too, instead of sitting here in a steamy bedroom?
The phone rang twice. Mom picked it up downstairs. Madison could barely hear her mumbling into the receiver.
"That was your father!" Mom yelled up a moment later. "Surprise! He's late."
Dad was always late to pick up Madison for their weekly dinners. But Madison didn't mind it—as long as he showed up. Tonight they had made plans to go to their favorite barbecue restaurant together, just the two of them. His girlfriend, Stephanie, had a conflict and couldn't make it. Madison was momentarily disappointed that it wouldn't be three for dinner, but decided not to get upset.
It was summer, and she was supposed to be cooling off, not heating up.
She clicked OPEN on her keyboard. Madison could read Bigwheels's e-mail from the road while she waited for Dad.
Subject: I LOVE SUMMER!!!
Date: Thurs 26 June 2:46 PM
Happy vacation! Aren't you glad school is OVER? What's up with you?
We're in OREGON now! I am not sure what the name of the town is. I have to send you an e-postcard. My mom is trying to help me figure out how to download it.
We left Washington two days ago and have been stopping along the coastline. It is pretty. We have a special camper and everything. My sister and I have bunk beds and there's even a TV set inside. Have you ever gone on a trip like this? We are driving all the way through this state and then down to northern California, to drive right over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Did you ever go shopping for that new bathing suit? Isn't the day at the lake coming up soon? How is Hart? And what are you doing for the Fourth of July? We're going to find fireworks somewhere. We'd better!
Yours till the road trips, Bigwheels, aka Victoria
p.s. I can still get e-mails here even though I am not home. So K-I-T (that means WRITE)!
Just as Madison was about to type a response, Mom came dashing into her room. Dad had called again. He'd be there in ten short minutes.
Madison disconnected her laptop, crumpled up her makeshift pink fan, and went downstairs. It was better to wait outside than inside her warm bedroom. The breeze was picking up.
On the Finn porch, Mom had installed a wooden swing seat, and Madison collapsed into its puffy blue cushions. Their house had a western view, so she leaned backward to see if the sun might set while she waited. The whole sky was turning a washed-out yellow, but summer dusk was hours away.
After a few moments, Mom came outside and sat down beside her.
"Did you see Aimee and Fiona today?" Mom asked.
"Nah, but we talked on the phone. Why?" Madison asked back.
"Oh, I don't know. You haven't seen them in a few days and ... well, I just don't want this to be a summer of you sleeping late and staying inside on the computer all day—"
"Mom," Madison said, interrupting. "What are you talking about? I get out. I walk Phinnie. I've been over to the animal clinic—"
"Once," Mom cut her off. "Now, we just went and bought you that nice new swimsuit. I think you should use it. Aren't you and your friends going to the lake soon? Should we have made camp plans for you?"
Madison made a grouchy face. Ever since the "Big D," her parents' divorce, Mom was overly worried about everything Madison did and did not do.
"I'm superfine the way I am," Madison said. "Besides, the Fourth of July is coming up, and we're going to help the parks department with the setup. They ask for junior-high volunteers. That way we all see fireworks up close."
"Well," Mom continued. "We need to talk about the Fourth of July."
Silently Madison dragged her feet along the ground so the swing moved back and forth. She had a sneaking suspicion that she did not want to hear the next part of what Mom had to say.
Mom kept talking. "Unfortunately, I have to work on an important business presentation next week—and then I have to fly out and present it—"
"Like when?" Madison asked.
"Well ... around the Fourth of July," Mom replied. "It's bad timing, I know ..."
"Bad timing? IT'S AWFUL!" Madison blurted, her face swelling up pink. "I can't miss the Fourth of July."
"Maddie ... honey bear ..." Mom said, reaching out for Madison's arm, but Madison pulled away.
"Just because you have work, why do I have to leave, too? When were you going to tell me? Can I at least stay with Daddy?" Madison asked three questions all at once.
Mom shook her head. "No, I checked—your father has a business commitment on the other coast that he can't avoid. And I asked Aimee's mom if you could sleep over with them, but they have several guests coming from out of town, too. Oh, Maddie, it's just one of those things. I'm sorry."
Madison's face was all puffy.
"You don't understand, Mom," Madison said. Her knees locked and the swing stopped. "This is the most important Fourth of July ever ... in my whole entire life. I can't miss it."
"I'm sorry. But we'll make other arrangements ..." Mom's voice drifted off.
"What kind of arrangements?" Madison asked.
Mom put her hand on Madison's back. "I think you should go to Gramma Helen's for the Fourth of July. And she loves the idea. We can fly out to Chicago together, and then I'll go on to my business trip ..."
Madison stood up and threw her arms into the air. "Are you kidding, Mom? Leave my friends to go hang with Gramma Helen? No way."
Mom nodded. "I know it doesn't sound perfect, but it will be just for a week or so. Gramma keeps saying how much she misses you, and how she wants to see you."
"A WEEK?" Madison said. She leaned back in the swing seat and sighed a deep, sad sigh.
No Far Hills carnival? No parade? She'd miss the fireworks?
She'd miss her friends.
Mom and Madison sat there, not speaking for a moment or two. There was total silence except for the sound of Phin's panting.
"Maddie," Mom finally said. "This doesn't have to be a tragedy."
"Easy for you to say." Madison groaned. She felt like crying and screaming at the same time. The Fourth of July was her big chance to hang out with Hart Jones. Now those hopes were dashed.
Phinnie started to howl a little, as if he knew something was wrong. He sniffed at Madison's sneakers.
"I really am sorry, Maddie," Mom said again. She rubbed the top of Madison's back the way she always did when Madison felt sad or sick.
"You just don't understand, Mom. I can't spend the Fourth of July with my grandmother! The only people around her are old. I'll be so left out. And all my friends are here, not there. I don't know anyone there."
"That's not true," Mom said with a gentle smile.
"MOM! Can't you just postpone your work for a change?" Madison said. She bit her lip.
"No, that is not an option," Mom answered.
"You don't get it!" Madison screamed. Her voice was getting louder and louder.
"Okay, enough yelling, young lady. I think you're overreacting. Look, it's only a short stay. There are fireworks and carnivals where Gramma lives, too. And you may not believe me, but summers at Gramma's lake house can be pleasantly surprising," Mom said. "I promise."
Madison didn't respond with more than a pout. Dad's car was pulling into the driveway at that exact moment.
She skipped down the porch stairs without really saying a proper good-bye.
Phin howled after her, but Mom held on to his dog collar so he stayed on the porch.
"I love you, Maddie," Mom called out.
"Yeah, I love you, too," Madison replied softly. But she didn't look back. She opened her dad's car door and climbed inside.
Somehow Madison hoped that Dad would have a magical solution that could help her figure out the way to stay home, sweet home, for the Fourth of July.
It would take serious magic to save this summer.CHAPTER 2
"What's new?" Dad asked when Madison crawled into his car.
She wanted to blurt out everything she was thinking but was afraid it would all come rushing out like a big mess.
"Cat got your tongue?" Dad asked. "Or should I say, dog got your tongue?" He laughed at his own dumb joke.
But Madison still didn't laugh or speak.
"How are you feeling, honey?" Dad asked.
"Mmmnh ... fine," Madison grunted back at Dad.
"Well," Dad said, clearing his throat. "You don't sound very fine."
"Yeah," Madison said. "Guess not." She gazed out the passenger-side window. They drove past a few more houses before turning into the downtown area of Far Hills where the barbecue restaurant was.
"What is it, Maddie?" Dad asked, seriously now. He reached out for Madison's knee. "You can tell me."
Madison realized she couldn't keep her feelings hidden all night, so she spoke up. Her voice quivering a little, she explained about the Fourth of July fiasco and the pending trip to Gramma Helen's lake house. She hoped that Dad would just fix things—and be on Madison's side.
Unfortunately, Dad wouldn't. He just stared straight ahead, driving slowly toward their BBQ destination.
"Gee, now I don't know what to say, Maddie," he blurted after a brief pause. "Your mother ... well, she works pretty hard. I know she isn't ruining your Fourth of July on purpose. And I'd change my work schedule if I could ... but I can't, either. I don't know what to tell you...."
Madison crossed her arms and sighed.
What would Bigwheels do in a situation like this? Madison wished her key-pal were there right now to help her through this muddle. Didn't parents understand anything about the importance of a perfect summer vacation?
"I'm surprised you don't think staying with Gramma Helen could be fun," Dad continued. "She has that great house by Lake Michigan. Nice neighbors. Ducks. There's a lot to do up there ..."
"Ducks?" Madison shot him a look. "What am I supposed to do with ducks? Dad, out there is not as much fun as here with Aimee and Fiona."
Dad wasn't sure how to respond to that. "I know," he said simply.
He silently pulled into the barbecue restaurant parking lot and parked the car. In front of them, Madison noticed a giant billboard.
"Just look at that," she moaned to Dad as she read the sign aloud.
Far Hills Independence Day Extravaganza!
FREE rides! FREE raffles! FREE fun!
Downtown Center, July 4
12 PM to 10 PM
Games all day! Fireworks all night!
Her heart sank even lower than before.
"Now, sweetheart, don't get upset. I'll bet there's an 'extravaganza' at Gramma Helen's, too," Dad said, trying to be reassuring. "I'll bet they have rides and games all day there, too."
"But who will I go on the rides with, Dad? Ride a roller coaster with Gramma Helen?" Madison asked. "I don't think so."
Dad shrugged. "Well, you can watch the fireworks from Gramma's," he said. "And I'll bet Mom will let you bring Phinnie along for the trip. You and Phin can light sparklers together ..."
Madison sighed. Bringing Phin would help the situation, but a pug was no replacement for a real BFF.
"Let's go get some food, and we can talk more," Dad said, gently grabbing Madison's shoulder.
How could anyone eat BBQ at a time like this?
But she went anyway.
Surprisingly, after a few spicy french fries (and a few more of Dad's dumber-than-dumb jokes), Madison's spirits lifted a little. And by the time he suggested they go for dessert at Freeze Palace, Madison was actually grinning from ear to ear. Ice cream was happy food, after all. A person couldn't be sad and lick a waffle ice-cream cone at the same time. Madison couldn't.
As usual, the line for Freeze Palace was out the door on a warm summer night, but Madison didn't mind waiting. She'd only been standing there for a few moments when Aimee appeared with two of her brothers, Dean and Billy.
"Maddie!" Aimee squealed as soon as she saw her best friend. She greeted Madison's dad, too. "Hey, Mr. Finn!"
Madison gave her BFF a big squeeze. "What are you doing here?"
"Pigging out!" Aimee said, laughing. She was always going on and off diets, but in the summer even ballerina Aimee couldn't resist ice cream. And Freeze Palace made the best chocolate cow (aka superthick mocha milk shake) in town.
"Did you guys walk here all the way from your house?" Madison asked.
"Yes, and ..." Aimee pulled Madison a little off to one side. "Do you know who I just saw on the way?"
Aimee broke into giggles.
"Who?" Madison asked, impatient. "Tell me. TELL ME!"
"Ben Buckley!" Aimee squealed. She covered up her mouth to pretend that no one could hear.
Excerpted from Just Visiting by Laura Dower. Copyright © 2002 Laura Dower. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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