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By Nancy Rue
ZONDERKIDZCopyright © 2013 Nancy Rue
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Chapter OneThat is gross," Sophie LaCroix said. She turned quickly and put her hands over her friend Willoughby Wiley's eyes. If Willoughby saw the painting, she'd probably squeal like a poodle, the way she'd been doing all morning through the entire Chrysler Museum of Art.
"I think it's cool," Vincent said.
Sophie cocked her head at the painting, spilling her honey-colored hair against her cheek and squinting through her glasses. "No, it isn't," she said to Vincent. "It's bloody and hideous."
"Is it totally disgusting?" Willoughby whispered.
"If you think somebody that just got their head cut off is disgusting, then, yeah," Vincent said. His voice cracked, just like it did on every other sentence he spoke.
Sophie dragged Willoughby toward the next room. Vincent shrugged his skinny shoulders and loped along beside them.
"Where's everybody else?" Willoughby said.
"They got ahead of us." Sophie looked up at Vincent as they passed through the doorway. "They didn't stop to look at some heinous picture of a headless person."
Fiona Bunting, Sophie's best friend, looked up from her notebook as Sophie and Willoughby headed toward her. "Ohso you saw John the Baptist." She tucked back the wayward strand of golden-brown hair that was always falling over one gray eye and made a checkmark on the page. "That one's definitely repulsive."
"Does that mean it makes you want to throw up?" Willoughby narrowed her big eyes at Vincent. "You're not gonna say we should use that for our project, are you?"
Sophie shook her head. "No movies about people without heads. Who would play that part, anyway?"
Willoughby grabbed her throat.
"Actually," Vincent said, Adam's apple bobbing up and down, "there are some pretty cool ways we could make it look on film like somebody got his head cut off"
"No!" all three girls said together. Sophie's voice squeaked, like it did when she was really making a point.
"Okay. Chill," Vincent said.
Sophie led the way to the next painting. She was the smallest of the Corn Flakes, as she and her five friends called themselves, but they mostly followed her. It had just been that way for the sixteen months since sixth grade when they'd gotten together and decided to be the group that was always themselves and never put anybody down.
"What's this one, Fiona?" Sophie said as they stopped at the next painting.
Above them was a portrait of a sober-faced lady in a gown that looked to Sophie like it weighed three hundred pounds.
"That dress is fabulous!" Willoughby said with a poodle-shriek. Her hazel eyes were again the size of Frisbees.
"Aw, man," Vincent said.
"What?" Jimmy Wythe came through a door from a room Sophie hadn't gone into yet. Nathan Coffey was behind him and plowed into Jimmy's back when he stopped in front of the painting. Jimmy looked at Sophie, his swimming-pool-blue eyes begging her. "It's gonna be kinda hard to do a movie about this painting."
"She's just sitting there," Nathan said. And then his face went the color of the inside of a watermelon. Sophie expected that. Nathan always got all red when he talked, which wasn't often.
"I'm gonna go find Kitty," Willoughby said. "She is going to love this."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Vincent said. "I guess we could pretend she's a corpse and make the movie a murder mystery."
Fiona rolled her eyes. "She is so not dead, Vincent."
Sophie looped her arm through Fiona's. "Let's go see if Kitty and them have found anything."
"Did they?" Sophie heard Vincent ask Jimmy as she and Fiona moved into the next room.
"It's all pretty much chick stuff," Jimmy said. "I mean, not that that's all bad."
"Not if you're a chick," Vincent said.
"They are soboys," Fiona said when they reached the room.
"Yeah, but at least they're not as bad as some boys."
That was why the Corn Flakes called Jimmy, Vincent, and Nathan the Lucky Charmsbecause they were way nicer than a couple of guys they referred to as the Fruit Loops. The Loops were famous for making disgusting noises with their armpits and trying to get away with launching spit missiles at people, stuff like that. Now that they'd been caught doing some really bad things, they didn't get by with as much, but they were still, to use Fiona's favorite word, heinous.
At the other end of the room, Willoughby was jabbering at light speed to the other three Corn Flakes.
"Is it a really pretty painting?" Kitty Munford said as Sophie and Fiona joined them. Her little china-doll face looked wistful. Kitty was back in school after being homeschooled while having chemotherapy for leukemia. It was as if everything were magic to Kitty in spite of her still-bald head and puffed-out cheeks.
"It's gorgeous," Willoughby said. "That dress was, like, to die for."
Darbie O'Grady hooked her reddish hair behind her ears and folded her lanky arms across her chest. "I bet the boys put the kibosh on that."
Sophie grinned. She loved it that even though Darbie had been in the United States for a year, she still used her Irish expressions. Between her fun way of saying things and Fiona's being a walking dictionary, the Corn Flakes practically had a language all their own. It was all about being their unique selves.
"Yeah, they hated it," Fiona said. "But we put the kibosh on John the Baptist with his head chopped off."
Kitty edged closer to Sophie until the brim on her tweed newsboy's cap brushed Sophie's cheek. "I don't want my first movie in forever to be about something gross."
"No way," Maggie LaQuita said. She shook her head until her Cuban-dark hair splashed into itself in the middle. "Kitty doesn't need that." In her stocky, no-nonsense way, she was protective of all the Corn Flakes, but especially Kitty.
"I like it that you're back with us," Sophie said to Kitty.
"This is like your first field trip in forever, huh?" Fiona said.
Willoughby raised her arms like she was going to burst into a cheer, but Maggie cut her off. Sophie was glad Maggie was the one who always enforced the rules. She would hate that job. She would have to keep her imagination totally under control to do that.
Right now, in fact, Sophie was searching for her next dream character. With a new film project to do for Art Appreciation class, she hoped one of the paintings would inspire her into a daydream that would lead to a new lead character that would shape a whole movie for Film Club to do ...
"Okaynow that's what I'm talkin' about!"
Sophie looked over at Vincent, who was three paintings inside the door, bobbing his head and pointing like he'd just discovered a new vaccine. Like a flock of hens, the Corn Flakes followed Sophie to see what he'd found. Darbie and Kitty stared, mouths gaping. Willoughby out-shrieked herself.
"We can't do a movie about this," Maggie said. Her words, as always, dropped out in thuds. "Those people are naked."
Nathan turned purple.
"Painters back then were all about the human body," Fiona said. "Don't get all appalled. It's just art."
"I don't even know what appalled means but I think I am that." Darbie shook her head at Vincent. "You're gone in the head if you think we're going to touch that idea."
Sophie suddenly felt squirmy. While the three boys wandered into the next exhibit room, Sophie put her arms out to gather her Corn Flakes around her. "You guys," she said, "we're acting like the Pops and Loops, all freaking out over naked people and talking about gross things being cool."
"We're not doing it," Maggie said. "The boys are."
"They can't help it," Sophie said. "They're just boys."
Willoughby gave a mini-shriek.
"I know what you're gonna say, Soph," Fiona said. "Even if they're being a little bit heinous, that doesn't mean we have to be."
"The Corn Pops wish they had Jimmy and those guys in their group," Willoughby said. She looked a little startled, curls springing out from under her headband. "SorryCorn Flake CodeI know we're not supposed to try to make people jealous and stuff."
Fiona sniffed. "We're so beyond that."
"Don't say anything else," Darbie said out of a small hole she formed at the corner of her mouth. "Here they come."
A group of four girls made such an entrance around the corner, Sophie was sure the paintings were going to start falling off the walls. Julia Cummings sailed in the lead with her thick dark auburn hair swinging from side to side and her glossy lips set in her usual I-smell-something-funny-and-I-think-it's-you curl. Fiona always said she looked disdainful.
She swept past the Corn Flakes with her three followers trailing after her, all dressed in variations of the skin-tight theme and curling their own lips as if they'd been studying Julia by the hour. There was a time when they would have stopped and made a remark about how lame and uncool each of the Corn Flakes was, but Sophie knew they didn't dare. The Corn Pops had been back in school for only a week since their last serious detention.
It was a sure thing they weren't going to take a chance with Mr. DiLoretto on their heels. He strode in right behind them, wearing his glasses with no rims and his curly grayish hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Sophie's high school sister, Lacie, had warned her about Mr. DiLoretto when the seventh graders switched from Life Skills to Art Appreciation for the new semester.
"He's a little weird," Lacie had said, "and he gets mad when people don't take art seriously."
So far, Sophie liked him fine because he let them choose their own groups for their assignment to do a creative project on any painting or sculpture they saw at this museum in Norfolk. And because he'd said their group could do a film. And because he was really nice to Kitty.
Even now he dodged the last of the Corn Pops and went straight to her.
"Have you done any sketches?" he asked. His voice was always edgy, it seemed to Sophie. Like he just knew that either excitement or disaster was around the next corner.
"I did a couple," Kitty said. She giggled and opened the red sketchbook she'd been carrying around. Sophie sidled closer and felt her brown eyes bulging.
Kitty's drawings looked just like some of the paintings they'd seen on the gallery tour. The lion in one looked like it was going to leap right off the page.
"Whoa," Maggie said. "I didn't know you could draw that well, Kitty."
"Kathryn is an exceptional young artist," Mr. DiLoretto said.
"Who's Kathryn?" Willoughby whispered to Sophie.
Kitty giggled again. Mr. DiLoretto swept the rest of them, including the nearby Corn Pops, with a bristly look. "Expect to see incredible work from her," he said.
With another proud gaze at Kitty, he hurried on, calling over his shoulder, "You have fifteen minutes left to choose your piece, and then we gather for lunch. Cuisine and Company is on your map."
"Hey," Vincent said from a doorway. "Get a load of this exhibit."
As the Corn Flakes headed for him, Sophie linked her arm through Kitty's. "You're gonna be a famous artist someday," she said. "There'll be, like, an entire museum of your paintings."
"I drew a lot when I was home, you know, 'cause there wasn't that much to do." Kitty hugged the sketchbook. "Now that I'm in remission, I can do a lot more."
"Mr. DiLoretto thinks you're, like, Leonardo da Vinci or somebody," Sophie said. She could hear her voice squeaking up into mouse-range. It did that when she was delighted too.
Another voice, not delighted at all, hissed from the direction of the naked-people painting, where the Corn Pops were standing in a knot.
"Pssst!" Anne-Stuart Riggins said.
Sophie was glad they weren't closer. Anne-Stuart had a continuous sinus problem, and sometimes her sounds came out wet.
"What do they want?" Kitty muttered.
"I remember when I was teacher's pet," Julia said.
"We all were," B.J. Schneider put in.
Julia gave her a green-eyed glare and went on. "It doesn't last, though. Teachers are fickle."
"Ignore them," Sophie whispered to Kitty. She nudged her by the elbow toward the door where the rest of the group had disappeared.
"I don't know, Julia," Anne-Stuart said. She gave a juicy sniff. "If Kitty kisses up to him enough, maybe he'll keep telling her she's ..."
She waved her hand at Cassie, who squinted her close-together eyes at the artist's name next to the nude painting and read, "Bo-ti-cel"
"Whatever," Julia said.
"Yeah, whatever, Cassie," B.J. chimed in.
They all glared at B.J. this time, which gave Sophie a chance to give Kitty the final push through the doorway.
"They're always so jealous of each other," Kitty whispered. "I'm so glad I'm not a Pop anymore."
"I'm glad you're not too," Sophie said. "You never have to worry about us being all jealous and stuff."
"Sophielook at this!"
Sophie hurried over to where the Film Club was standing, staring up at a painting of a can of Campbell's soup.
"Who would paint a stupid soup can?" Maggie said.
Fiona tapped her pen on her notebook. "Some guy named Andy Warhol."
"All his stuff is weird," Vincent said. "This one's, like, a stack of boxes."
Sophie gazed at it. "Look how real that looks."
"You thought that lady in the beautiful dress was boring," Willoughby said. "This would put you to sleep."
"Not movie material," Vincent said.
"If somebody was, like, under the boxes getting crushed," Nathan said, "that would be cool."
"That would be repulsive," Fiona said.
Sophie pulled a strand of her hair under her nose. She was glad it was long enough to do that again, because it always helped her think. Personally, she liked the funny paintings of boxes and soup cans.
"What do you think of Andy Warhol's work?"
Sophie looked up at Mr. DiLoretto.
"It'sI like it," Sophie said.
"Why?" he asked.
Lacie had been right, Sophie thought. He was a little bit weird. She adjusted her glasses and looked back at the soup can. "Well," she said, "it's all just ordinary stuff, but up there on the wall, all shiny and perfect, it seems like it's special too."
Uh-oh, Sophie thought. Did she say the wrong thing? What was it Lacie had said about him getting mad when people didn't get art?
"You have the beginnings of a good critical mind," Mr. DiLoretto said.
Sophie let go of the hair she was still pulling under her nose like a mustache. "I do?" she said.
"You don't have an ounce of talent for drawing or painting, but you show some promise as an art critic." He glanced at his watch. "Nine minutes 'til lunch."
Sophie didn't hear the rest of what he said. She was gazing again at the giant soup canand pawing through her large canvas artsy-looking bag for her notebook and pen. Ah, there they were, beneath the camera and the portable tape recorder and her calendar full of appointments with people who wanted her expert opinion on modern art.
So many demands on my time, Artista Picassa thought. But I must make some notes on this piece because it fascinates me.
Very few people had her appreciation for the more bizarre artists like Andy Warhol. It was her duty to educate people, which was why she was an art critic. And possibly the most famous one in all of Virginia, if not beyond
That was it, of course. Maggie could write it all down in the Treasure Book later.
They would do their project on one of Andy Warhol's pieces.
She could play Artista Picassa, the famous art critic ...
And maybe artists who were jealous because she didn't praise their paintings would do something heinous ...
Too bad they couldn't use Pops and Loops in their film. They'd be perfect as envious painters.
Sophie looked around for her group, but there was nobody left in the exhibit room.
"Rats!" Sophie said to the soup can.
She dashed into the hall, but she didn't have a clue which way to go, and the map of the museum was shoved into the bottom of her backpack.
Where's Maggie when you need her? she thought. Maggie probably has the whole museum layout memorized by now.
But that was why Maggie was the club's recorder and Sophie was the director. Creative people needed organized people to keep them from getting lost, Sophie decided.
The smell of food and the clattering of forks finally led her in the right direction. Mr. DiLoretto was standing in the doorway of Cuisine and Company, glaring at her from under his tangled eyebrows.
"I got caught up appreciating art," Sophie said.
He just pointed her inside. Fiona waved to her from a table across the room.
"Mr. DiLoretto wouldn't let us look for you," she said as Sophie slid into a chair.
"Tell her what we decided," Vincent said to Fiona.
"You're gonna love this, Soph," Jimmy said. His usually shy smile was wide.
Sophie looked at Fiona. "Decided about what?"
"The film," Fiona said. "Jimmy found the perfect painting for our project."
Excerpted from Sophie's Drama by Nancy Rue Copyright © 2013 by Nancy Rue. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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