Ready or Not! #1

Ready or Not! #1

by Megan E. Bryant

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Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on February 15, 2022

Overview

From prolific author Megan E. Bryant comes the first book in a young middle-grade series about nine-year-old Abby, a girl trying to grapple with all the chaos that can come from growing up.

For nine-year-old Abby McAdams, everything seems to be changing.

Her cousin and best friend, Zoe, has moved across the country, her mom is going back to work, and Abby is stuck in the only after-school activity still available—running—which she absolutely loathes. Her perspective on the world is changing, too, after an encounter in her community sheds light on the issue of homelessness in her town. On top of everything, sudden changes in Abby's body mean she has to deal with things like deodorant, bras, and uncomfortable conversations. And without her best friend by her side, she's not sure she can handle it all.

She's not a grown-up yet, but she definitely doesn't feel like a little kid anymore. She's Abby, in between.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593226520
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/15/2022
Series: Abby in Between , #1
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.84(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Megan E. Bryant has written more than 250 children's books for ages ranging from babies to teens. Her most recent novels include the four-book Tiny Geniuses series, and the Kirkus starred and Best Book of the Year listed Glow. She co-authored her four-book board book series, Citizen Baby, with her husband, historian Daniel O. Prosterman. Other of Megan's titles include media tie-ins and middle-grade and YA novels for Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Chronicle, Running Press, Disney, Harper, and Scholastic, including two 2009 VOYA Nonfiction Honor Books (Mythlopedia: Oh My Gods! and Mythlopedia: She's All That!). Some of her titles are written under her pen name, Ellie O'Ryan.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
 
At Zoe’s house there weren’t a lot of rules, except bigger is better, and brighter is best. So when Zoe invited me over to decorate cupcakes, I knew it was going to be incredible. Beyond incredible, even—astounding. There were, like, a hundred vanilla-and-strawberry-swirl cupcakes. And the toppings? You would not believe. Sprinkles, all mixed up in a rainbow jumble. Sparkly sugar in every color. Tiny, shiny gold stars. Candy confetti. Shimmery sugar pearls. A bowl of rock candy glinting like jewels. And there were bags of frosting and a bunch of pointed metal tips for piping flowers and leaves and squiggles.
 
Zoe looked up from a piece of waxed paper covered with frosting doodles. “Abby! Check it out,” she said. “I’ve been practicing.”
 
“Cool,” I replied. Zoe is my cousin and my best friend forever, and not necessarily in that order. She’s awesome in all the best ways: smart and fun and silly and nice. Together, we are A to Z and everything in between.
 
“How do you use this thing, anyway?” I asked, grabbing a pastry bag filled with sky—blue frosting. I tried holding it like a pencil. Drawing is my thing; it’s what I do better than anything else, but I could tell right away that the pastry bag was not going to work like one of my art supplies.
 
“Here, I’ll show you,” Zoe said, sounding important. Teaching me stuff was probably her thing—after gymnastics and mythology and baking—and I didn’t mind one bit. She was only a year older than me, but somehow Zoe knew way more about almost everything.
 
Take decorating cupcakes. From leaves to rose petals to swirly whirls, Zoe’s designs were just right, and after a little practice, mine weren’t too bad. We decorated every single one of those cupcakes with loopy swoops of buttercream frosting and then covered them in sparkly, sugary toppings.
 
Zoe got one of those secret-y smiles on her face—the kind that made me sit up a little straighter, knowing she was about to do something surprising.
 
“Check this out,” she said as she dabbed a dollop of frosting on each one of her perfectly polished fingernails. Then she stuck her hands into the sprinkles!
 
“Zoe!” I screeched.
 
“Shhh!” She shushed me. Then she held up her hands. The sprinkles had stuck to the frosting on her nails like a confetti manicure.
 
“Ta-da!” Zoe announced, wiggling her fingers at me. A couple sprinkles fell off and bounced around the tablecloth, but Zoe didn’t care.
 
“Wow,” I said, impressed like always.
 
Zoe popped her index finger into her mouth. “Yum,” she said. “Your turn!”
 
I picked up the bag and squeezed some of the frosting onto my nails. It wasn’t as easy as Zoe made it look, but she cheered me on until I had a sprinkles manicure, too. By the end of it, we were laughing so hard that sprinkles were sproinging everywhere, and I just knew we’d have to get out the vacuum to clean up the mess, but I didn’t even care. Everything was perfect.
 
Well, almost perfect.
 
The only thing in the whole wide world that could’ve made it truly perfect was if we didn’t need the cupcakes at all. Because those cupcakes were for Zoe’s goodbye party. Zoe and her family were moving all the way from North Carolina to California, and I couldn’t begin to imagine what life was going to be like without her.
 

 
Later that day, I spent most of Zoe’s goodbye party staring at her shoes. They were basically the best shoes ever: rainbow, streaked with glitter, slip-ons. Half sneaker, half party shoe, they would go with anything. I could wear them anywhere.
 
If they were mine, I mean, and not Zoe’s.
 
Plus, they twinkled and sparkled whenever she moved, so you couldn’t not look at them.
 
That wasn’t the real reason why I couldn’t stop staring at those amazing shoes, though. To be totally honest, it was easier to look down than up. Looking up meant seeing Zoe’s face and missing it already, even though she was sitting right next to me. Looking up meant people might see the tears that kept sneaking into my eyes. I didn’t want to be mad at Uncle Craig about his new job, but if he’d found a job here in North Carolina instead of California, none of this would be happening.
 
Goodbye parties, I decided, were dumber than dumb. They just didn’t make sense. Parties are supposed to be happy times, and goodbyes are sad, unless you are saying goodbye to the flu or the last bite of kale salad on your plate.
 
Then Aunt Rachel appeared. She was carrying a small box wrapped in gold paper. “We were going to give this to you later, Zoe,” Aunt Rachel began. “But . . . since everyone is here now . . .”
 
Zoe’s glittery purple nails flashed as she sloooowly peeled the tape off the present. At last, the paper slipped off and fluttered to the ground.
 
Zoe gasped.
 
I gasped.
 
Everybody gasped.
 
Inside the box was a phone. A cell phone. Zoe’s first cell phone.
 
“Mooooommmmmmm!” Zoe shrieked. “Seriously? Are you serious?”
 
“So serious,” Aunt Rachel said, beaming. “We want you to stay in touch with all your friends after the move. And since just about everybody is here, you can get their contact information!”
 
“I’ve already downloaded a bunch of apps,” Uncle Craig said. “Messaging apps and photo apps and research apps and, yes, games . . .”
 
“Thank you!” Zoe was saying, but now she was the one who wouldn’t look up. I couldn’t blame her. The glow from Zoe’s new phone lit up her whole face.
 
All around me, Zoe’s friends from gymnastics were getting out their phones. At the same time—
 
Bing!
 
Zzzzz!
 
Dee-dee-dee!
 
WOOF!
 
Everyone laughed as their phones beeped and buzzed and woofed. I guess they were texting each other or something. If I had a phone, I could sit with them and text and laugh, too.
 
Suddenly, I realized I was the only one who didn’t have a phone. Nobody seemed to notice that fact, so I figured nobody would notice if I slipped away from the group. And I was right! They didn’t.
 
There was a table by the front door where everyone had put little presents for Zoe. My present was a stationery set, which is fancy paper for writing letters. The purple paper had purple flamingos on it, because flamingos are our favorite, thanks to Mrs. Flamingo. That’s not her real name—at least, I don’t think it is—but it’s what we call her because she has a flock of plastic flamingos in her front yard that she dresses up every holiday. Mrs. Flamingo doesn’t know it, but her flamingos are the whole reason I got really into art. Back when I was in second grade, I wanted to draw her flamingos, but every time I tried, they looked like pink potatoes with legs. Mom signed me up for art classes, and in less than a year, I was good enough at drawing that my flamingo picture won third prize at the county fair. Anyway, I just knew that whenever Zoe used her new stationery, she’d think of me and remember all the laughs we had about Mrs. Flamingo’s flock.
 
The best part, though, was that I had matching stationery at my house. Blue paper with blue flamingos on it. It was going to be so great because Zoe and I could write each other letters on our flamingo paper, and those flamingos would fly back and forth across the country, landing in our mailboxes.
 
I walked into the dining room, and that’s when I saw trouble. My brother, Max, had also wandered away from the party. This was a big problem because he was only four years old. And it was an even bigger problem because Aunt Rachel had left those fancy cupcake displays pretty close to the edge of the dining room table.
 
Max, of course, had found them.
 
He’d climbed one of the chairs and was leaning so far forward onto the table that he was practically lying on it. And he was doing something with the cupcakes. Not just something—he was messing with them. He was messing with Zoe’s special goodbye party cupcakes!
 
“Max!” I said, trying to sound like Mom when she whisper-yells. “What are you doing?”
 
Max didn’t stop. He didn’t even bother to look at me. I stepped into the room with my hands on my hips and my eyes squinched into a mean squint.
 
That’s when I realized that Max was picking sprinkles off the cupcakes! He had made six different color-coded piles right there on the tablecloth.
 
“Ewww! Are you touching all the cupcakes with your gross, dirty hands?” I asked.
 
“No,” he said. “I’m not touching the cupcakes. I’m just touching the sprinkles.”
 
“Why?” I demanded.
 
“I’m getting the red ones,” he said. “Red ones taste best. Like cherries and strawberries.”
 
“They do not,” I told him. “Sprinkles all taste the same. It doesn’t matter what color they are.”
 
“Bzzzzz! Wrong!” Max announced. Ever since he’d seen a game show on TV, he liked pretending to be a buzzer. “I want my cupcake to be all red sprinkles.”
 
Reasoning with Max is basically impossible, but I tried, anyway. “Look,” I said. “Even if they tasted different, you know it’s wrong to do this to all the cupcakes, right? They don’t belong to you. It’s selfish to take all the red sprinkles for yourself.”
 
Max pretended he didn’t hear me as he went back to picking more sprinkles off the cupcakes. Things were getting desperate. Then I had an idea.
 
“You know Zoe’s opening presents now, right?” I asked. “And you’re missing it?”
 
Max’s head snapped back, and his eyes went wide. He hates the idea of missing out more than anything. Don’t even show him pictures from before he was born. He’ll be mad for the rest of the day that he wasn’t there.
 
“Go!” I said, giving him a little push. “Quick! Before she finishes!”
 
Max scrambled out of the room, thankfully, and I tried to sneak the sprinkles back onto the cupcakes. That was not an easy thing to do. It turned out that sprinkles don’t want to stick to frosting that’s already set. I guess you just get one chance with sprinkles.
 
“Ratzit,” I muttered as the sprinkles sproinged and boinged off the cupcakes and back onto the table. Ratzit is a word I made up, for when stuff is extra frustrating or annoying. It’s like a swear word but even better, because you don’t get in trouble for saying it.
 
“Uh-oh,” a voice behind me said. “What’s wrong?”
 
I spun around to see Zoe standing in the doorway. Double ratzit! She was going to see the sprinkle disaster before I had figured out how to fix it.
 
“I’m sorry, Z,” I said, gesturing to the sprinkle piles. “It was Max. He had this dumb idea that each color has its own flavor.”
 
I was worried Zoe would be mad, but instead, she tilted her head to the side and asked, “Do they?”
 
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
 
“Let’s find out,” she said.
 
Then—I am not even kidding—Zoe licked her thumb, stuck it into the pile of purple sprinkles, and popped them into her mouth!
 
“Well?” I asked.
 
“Very unique flavor,” she said. “Kind of a cross between grapes and blueberry pancakes and . . .”
 
“And?”
 
“Balloons!” she said, giggling.
 
I started laughing, too, as I tossed a bunch of yellow sprinkles into my mouth. “Mmm. Lemon, for sure,” I said. “And daffodils and . . . raincoats!”
 
“Raincoats?” Zoe asked. She started really cracking up, and soon, we were both laughing so hard that when we tried to sample the sprinkles, we ended up spitting them out instead. Now the tears in my eyes were from laughing, but I still had that hollow, hurting place right in my middle. There was so much I wanted to say: Don’t leave and I’m going to miss you more than anything and Who will laugh with me like this after you move?
 
I squashed all that down, though, and said, “Your new phone is so awesome. I wish I had one.”
 
“Tell your mom you need one,” Zoe said, like she understood what I really meant. “Not want. Need. How am I going to survive California if we can’t talk every day?”
 
“Oh, come on.” I sighed. “It’s going to be amazing. Summer all the time, your own swimming pool . . .”
 
“No snow day sleepovers, no leaf piles, no flamingo house,” Zoe said, ticking them off on her fingers. “No you.”
 
I tried to smile, but it was wobbly.
 
“That’s why you need a phone,” Zoe continued. “We can text all the time and send each other pictures and memes. It will be like nothing has changed!”
 
“You think?” I asked slowly.
 
“I promise,” she said.
 
That settled it. Zoe never made promises unless she really, truly meant it.
 
Now all I had to do was convince Mom and Dad to get me a phone.
 

 
I couldn’t wait for the party to end so I could talk to Mom and Dad. Maybe we could go buy a phone tonight! We stepped outside into the muggy, sticky August evening to walk exactly two blocks home. I knew I had to ask right away, before Max started on one of his endless, pointless stories about his favorite show. I was so eager that we weren’t even halfway down Zoe’s front path when I asked them straight-out, no warm-up or anything. That was a mistake.
 
“Sorry,” Mom said, shaking her head. “It’s just too soon.”
 
“We’ve talked about this, Abby,” Dad said.
 
“I know,” I said. “It’s just . . . Zoe’s leaving, and I’m going to miss her so much—”
 
“That’s why we ordered matching stationery for you two,” Mom reminded me. I hated when she did that—interrupting like she knew what I was going to say before I even said it.
 
“But wait,” I said. “What about Zoe?”
 
“You need a phone for Zoe?” Mom asked. Then she and Dad smiled at each other, like I was a little kid who wouldn’t notice.
 
“Everyone acts like the move is bad for only me,” I pushed on. “But what about her? She said she’s going to miss me so much, and it would make it so much easier if she could talk to me every day! And how can she talk to me every day if I don’t have my own phone?”
 
Mom sighed. “I know it’s really hard to wait for something you want so much,” she began. “And I wish that Aunt Rachel hadn’t done that with the phone for Zoe—making a big scene of it in front of everyone.”
 
“She and Uncle Craig feel terrible about the move,” Dad added. “They know they’re turning Zoe’s whole life upside down.”
 
“But we just feel like nine years old is too young to have a cell phone,” Mom finished. “I’m sorry, Abby.”
 
“So . . . when I’m ten?” I asked hopefully. Ten was not too far away—just five months. And everybody knew that double digits was a big deal.
 
But Mom shook her head again. “Sorry, sweet pea,” she repeated. “I signed a pledge online. It’s called ‘Wait Until Eighth.’ ”
 
This was news to me.
 
“Wait until what?” I asked.
 
“Wait Until Eighth,” Mom said. “Eighth grade. There’s research that shows—”
 
“Eighth grade?” I howled. “Are you serious? You can’t be serious! That’s four years away!”
 
“The research—” Mom tried again.
 
“But what about Zoe? She can’t talk to me for four years?”
 
“Oh, Abby, don’t be so dramatic,” Mom said. “Of course she can talk to you, on my phone or Daddy’s phone.”
 
“That’s not the same! You know that’s not the same!” I exclaimed. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to us because of some stupid pledge!”
 
“Hey now,” Mom said, frowning.
 
“It is a stupid pledge,” I insisted. “It doesn’t even rhyme right. It should be, like, waith until eighth, which makes more sense, and by more, I mean none.”
 
Dad snort-laughed and tried to cover it with a cough, but that just made Mom madder.
 
“You’re out of line,” she told me. “That’s not the tone of voice you use when you speak to your parents.”
 
“Well, maybe my parents shouldn’t go around signing stupid online pledges that affect my whole life without even talking to me first,” I shot back.
 
I was so mad that I tripped on our front step, like I hadn’t walked up it a thousand times before. Dad’s hand rested on my shoulder to steady me. His hand was warm and strong, and made some of my anger melt away. That was no good because it left me feeling all empty again.
 
“Why don’t you take five in your room, princess,” he said in a low voice near my ear.
 
“Don’t call me ‘princess’ anymore,” I said. “I don’t like it.”
 
If Dad was surprised by how rude I was being, he didn’t show it. “Okay, I won’t,” he said. “I’ll just have to think up a new nickname for you.”
 
I glanced over at Mom to see how upset she was. It was impossible to tell because she was already walking inside, staring at her phone, like the discussion was over, like all my feelings and opinions didn’t matter.
 
Like I didn’t matter.
 
Well, at least I was mad again.
 
“Fine,” I said in a very not-fine! voice, and stomped down the hallway. I slammed my bedroom door, but only a little loud. I didn’t want to get in more trouble.
 
I flopped facedown on my bed with a big sigh.
 
And that’s when I felt them.
 
Two bumps, right on my chest.
 
Where did they come from? I swear they weren’t there when I woke up this morning.
 
Or were they?
 
Everything else whooshed out of my head as I poked, just a little, at one of the bumps. Yup. It was definitely there, no matter how much I wanted to pretend it wasn’t.
 
Just what I need, I thought. One more thing to worry about!
 

Chapter 2

 
When I woke up the next morning, the bumps were still there. It wasn’t a dream, and maybe that’s good, because that would be a very weird dream. Then again, if it was a dream, I could laugh and forget about it. Dream bumps were nothing to worry about.
 
Real bumps, though? That definitely seemed worry-worthy.
 
I jumped out of bed, turned on the light, and stood in front of the mirror over my dresser. Then I pulled off my T-shirt and stared at my reflection. I looked the same as always. And by that I mean my chest was super flat. If I couldn’t see the bumps, then nobody else could see them, either.
 
But I could feel them. They were definitely there, right under my nipples, like hard little marbles hiding under my skin. I poked my chest again, just to be sure.
 
Yup. Marble-bumps. They were feeling a little sore, too, and that made me start worrying even more. Were they sore last night? Were they sore because they were something bad?
 
Or were they sore because I kept poking them? To be honest, I’d been poking them kind of a lot.
 
What if they weren’t bumps at all, but lumps? Last year, Aunt Rachel had a lump, and all the grown-ups acted super serious and worried and tried to hide it from Zoe and me. But we weren’t as clueless as they thought. When Aunt Rachel’s lump turned out to be nothing serious, she was so happy, she cried.
 
What was the difference between a bump and a lump, anyway?
 
Mom would know. I’d have to tell Mom. Maybe even show her.
 
I peeked at the clock. It was still pretty early. Maybe I could tell her before breakfast, and she’d reassure me that everything was fine and tell me not to worry so much. Yes. She was probably getting dressed. I’d go to her room—
 
Wham!
 
My bedroom door flew open so hard, it hit the wall, and there was Max, standing in the doorway like it was no big deal. Like he hadn’t just barged in on me, half naked, poking my bump-lumps.
 
“Get out!” I shrieked in my shriekiest voice. My arm flew up to my chest to cover—what? It’s not like there was anything to see. But I did it anyway.
 
Max just stood there, staring at me like I was a sea monster or something. “What are you doing?” he asked.
 
“GET OUT!” I shrieked again. “You didn’t even knock!”
 
Max didn’t move for a loooong moment. Then he stepped backward, closed the door, and knocked.
 
“Go away,” I yelled through the door.
 
“But I knocked!” he yelled back.
 
“I want you to leave me alone!” I said. “I’m getting dressed!”
 
Yeah, that was a good excuse, in case Max told anyone what he saw. I was just getting dressed, not staring at my bare chest in the mirror like a weirdo.
 
There was a long pause. I had a feeling Max was still in the hallway. He’s really good at lurking. Finally, his voice piped up again. “Mom says breakfast is ready, and it’s special so you should come eat already.”
 
Ratzit. I guess I missed my chance to talk to Mom privately before breakfast.
 
“Are you coming?” Max asked.
 
“I. Am. Getting. Dressed,” I said through the door. “I’ll come when I’m ready!”
 
Silence. Then I heard Max, bumping and banging down the hall. He was all over the place. But at least he was gone.
 
Well. I couldn’t spend the whole day staring at myself in the mirror. And now I really did have to get dressed, and fast.
 
Downstairs, Mom was opening take-out containers from our favorite restaurant, The Breakfast Place. She always remembers everybody’s favorite everything, so there was an omelet full of veggies and cheese for Dad. Max had a waffle with whipped cream and strawberry syrup, and my box had a giant stack of blueberry pancakes. And there was a box from Dizzy’s Donuts. And a platter of bagels, even the rainbow ones she never buys because food coloring is chemicals.
 
First, I was really excited about the doughnuts. But then I narrowed my eyes as I stared at the feast. Mom must have gotten up at dawn to pick up all this food. It wasn’t anybody’s birthday.
 
So what was going on?
 
Does she know about my bumps? I wondered. Impossible! Or . . . maybe not. Sometimes Mom just, like, knows stuff. Like when I hid a bag of chocolate chips under my bed so I could have a private chocolate party whenever I wanted, or when Max tried to turn the bathtub into an aquarium. It’s like she has the world’s most annoying superpower.
 
I crossed my arms over my chest. If Mom was going to have a big breakfast celebration over my bumps, I would deny everything!
 
“Good morning, everybody!” Mom sang out. Her voice seemed brighter and louder than usual. She looked over at Dad, who nodded encouragingly at her.
 
“I . . . have some big news,” Mom continued. “I’m . . . going back to work!”
 
Nobody said anything. I mean, what could we say? This was an even bigger surprise than my bumps.
 
“I interviewed for a paralegal job at the firm of Taylor, Taylor, and Tucker,” Mom said. “I start in three weeks!”
 
Still, nobody said anything. Max opened the doughnut box and took one with sprinkles and strawberry frosting.
 
“Come on, kids,” Dad prompted us. “Isn’t this exciting for Mommy? Don’t you have anything to say to her?”
 
“Thank you for doughnuts!” Max piped up. He obviously had no idea how much everything was about to change.
 
But I did.
 
“Why?” I asked.
 
It wasn’t what Dad was hoping for—I could tell by the way he frowned at me, his forehead all wrinkly—but sometimes the first thing that pops into my brain is also the first thing that pops out of my mouth.
 
“Well . . .” Mom was flustered, and that was strange. “I mean, I was always going to go back to work someday. And Max is going into pre—K this year, so the timing makes sense.”
 
Dad was still looking at me, and then he said, “Also, I lost my job.”
 
“Rob!” Mom exclaimed. “We weren’t going to tell them yet, we agreed—”
 
“Look at her,” Dad interrupted, gesturing at me. “She’s about five minutes away from figuring it out.”
 
Max took another doughnut.
 
“You got fired?” I asked.
 
“Not exactly. I didn’t do anything wrong,” Dad replied. “The company’s in bad shape, and it’s probably going to close. Uncle Craig’s company has been struggling, too. That’s why he decided to take that job in California.”
 
“Hang on,” I said. “How long have you known about this?”
 
Mom and Dad exchanged another glance. “Six months, I suppose,” Dad said.
 
“And you’re just telling us now?” I exclaimed. My face was getting really hot, like my skin was as mad as the rest of me. “Is this why I had to stop taking art classes? Will we have to move?”
 
Mom got up and moved next to me. My shoulders went stiff when she wrapped her arm around them, but she gave me a squeeze, anyway. “It’s true we’ve been watching our budget a little more carefully. And we didn’t want you to worry while we figured out what was going to happen next,” she said. “I remember when my dad lost his job. It was really scary.”
 
“I’d rather be scared than lied to,” I said.
 
Mom took her arm back. “Well, we made the best decision we could with the information we had,” she said. “And now that we know what’s happening next, we’re telling you two. And no, we don’t have any plans to move.”
 
“Just because it’s a change doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad thing,” Dad said.
 
I thought about that for a moment. “So . . . you’ll be home with us after school?” I asked him.
 
“Actually, you’ll both be in an after-school program,” Mom said. “Max will be in Little Learners, and I signed you up for Run Wild! last night.”
 
“The running club?” I howled. “Do you even know me?”
 
“It’ll be interesting to try something new!” Mom said.
 
“But I hate running!” I said. “You know that!”
 
“Since when?” she asked, baffled.
 
“Since forever!” I said. “When was the last time you saw me run anywhere? Running? Seriously?”
 
“I’m sorry,” Mom said. “Everything else was already full.”
 
So the truth comes out, I thought, but at least this time, I was smart enough to think it instead of say it.
 
“And it’s only until December,” Mom continued, like she was measuring out each word. “Then we can sign you up for a new after-school elective for January.”
 
“So this is . . . permanent?” I asked. That’s when it hit me. Mom wasn’t going back to work as, like, a substitute teacher. She meant it. Like, really meant it. I turned to Dad. “How come we can’t stay home with you in the afternoons?”
 
“Well, hopefully, I’ll find another full-time job soon,” Dad replied. “But until then, I’ll need to be available for job interviews. And I’m hoping to pick up a little work in the gig economy.”
 
“The what economy?” I said.
 
“The gig economy, baby!” Dad said in a too—cheerful voice. “You know, driving people around, delivering packages. That sort of thing.”
 
“Couldn’t I come with you?” I asked hopefully.
 
Mom and Dad looked at each other instead of saying no. So I grabbed my chance. “Please, please, please,” I begged. “I hate running, so much. I’m so bad at it, and it makes my legs hurt and my lungs hurt and my—”
 
“Okay, okay, okay,” Dad said, laughing as he held up his hands. “You can come with me.”
 
Just when I was about to start cheering, Mom jumped in.
 
“Only until Run Wild! starts in the second week of school,” Mom added quickly. “That’s the plan.”
 
“It’s still work, Abby,” Dad replied. “I need to take it seriously, like any other job.”
 
“I know, I know,” I said. “I won’t get in the way. Promise.” But secretly, I knew I just needed a chance. I’d be the best helper; Dad would get way more done when I came along! I was imagining how we’d drive around Winston-Salem, music blaring, when I flopped back in my seat and accidentally bumped my head on the wall. “Ow!”
 
I hated the way everyone stared at me, looking all sympathetic and sorry, so I pointed at Max’s plate, which was piled high with doughnuts. “How many doughnuts are you going to let him eat, exactly?”
 
I didn’t really care. My appetite was zero.
 
Ratzit!
 

 
Heyyyy Z,
 
I guess you’re on an airplane right now. TAKE ME WITH YOU! I should have snuck into your suitcase when I had the chance. Mom and Dad just dropped a big stupid bomb on our whole family. Mom is going back to work as a paralegal, which is like a lawyer’s helper, and Dad has some gig job thing (???), and they signed me up for the Run Wild! club totally against my will—Can you even?! Max is too little to get it. He’s excited about doing Little Learners because of the snacks. Please! Anyway, I have one week to prove that I can help Dad with his gig thing and get out of Run Wild! forever. Keep your fingers crossed.
 
Something else also happened. Did you ever get a bump? Or two? Like on your chest? Is that supposed to happen right before fourth grade starts? Just wondering!!!
 
Write back soon. I miss youuuuuuu!
 
 
 
Then I drew, like, a million hearts and signed it with a big blue A. I’d already memorized Zoe’s new address, so I wrote it on the envelope, stuck a stamp in the corner, and sealed it with my best glitter stickers.
 
I did the math in my head. If it took, hmm, four days for my letter to get to California, and Zoe wrote back the day she got it, because of course she would, and then it took four days for her letter to come back to me . . .
 
Well, eight days wasn’t too long to wait, was it?

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