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I could hardly believe it was here: the First Day of Fifth Grade. The sun was shining through my window, birds sang a hallelujah chorus, and I could feel a case of the heebie-jeebies coming on. That’s when my whole body tickles and I jerk around like I’ve just heard the funniest joke in the world. I even made up a poem.
The fifth grade is Too great To even contemplate.
Thank you, Lucky Stars, my best friend, Betsy, and I would be in the same class—for the first time ever. And the event I’d been looking forward to since kindergarten would finally happen—Betsy Jane O’Malley and me, Ally Theresa Miller, would star in the Annual Fifth-Grade Talent Show. We were going to sing “Bridge over Troubled Water,” and I was counting on getting a standing ovation.
I leapt onto my bed and heebie-jeebied, careful not to bounce too loudly because if my mother caught me she’d act like I’d just set fire to the whole state of New Jersey.
Just then my mom called, “Hurry up, Ally! You don’t want to be late,” so I jumped down and put on my new pink leggings and butterfly jersey. Betsy had the exact same outfit, and we were wearing them together for the first day. First days are the best. Everything is new. Besides your clothes, there’s the new teacher, your books, the classroom and where you sit. Everything begins all over, fresh—nothing is ruined yet.
Before I ran to breakfast, I brushed my hair into a ponytail and fastened it with my new rhinestone clip. The clip was identical to Betsy’s, of course. Both Betsy and I have honey-brown hair and blue eyes. My hair is thicker and wavy, kind of like a horse’s tail, plus I’m taller and skinnier than Betsy. But we’re so alike that I figured as soon as our teacher, Mrs. Joy, saw us, she’d probably say, “Are you two twins?” I had a feeling I’d be Mrs. Joy’s pet. I’d collect everyone’s homework and be the one chosen to answer the principal’s phone during lunch on the days her secretary went home early.
I hoped I’d like Mrs. Joy as much as I’d liked Ms. Brady, my favorite teacher, from the third grade. Ms. Brady moved to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where she said deer walk right up to your porch.
We live in New Jersey. There is such a thing as Jersey cows, which I think are supposed to come from here. But if a cow walked up to somebody’s porch on my block, Mr. Winters would probably just shoot it like he shoots those poor pigeons for sitting on his drainpipe.
I gobbled down my breakfast, called out, “Bye, guys!” to my parents, and ran all the way to the bus stop.
As soon as I got there, that pest Artie Kaminsky, who has annoyed me since the first grade, called out, “Here comes Ally-oop, the Poop.”
When Artie acts like a two-year-old and chases me with worms, I run away. When he calls me dumb names, I ignore him. So instead of shouting, “Shut up, you turd ball!” I pretended I’d just had an operation on my eardrums and couldn’t hear a word he’d said. I stared up the hill at Betsy’s house, wishing she’d hurry up.
When I saw her walk over in a jeans skirt instead of our outfit, my jaw dropped to the sidewalk. “Why are you wearing that?” I practically yelled. I didn’t even say hi.
“Wanted to.” She shrugged, then smiled at someone behind me.
I heard “Hey, Bets,” and turned to see Mona Montagne, our sworn enemy, wearing the same skirt.
“I can’t believe you!” My heart was hammering so hard you could probably have seen it through my shirt. “You promised.”
“I didn’t promise. You’re such an exaggerator.” Betsy rolled her eyes at Mona, who rolled her eyes back.
Betsy and I had been enemies with Mona since she’d moved onto our road in kindergarten. But this summer, coincidentally, their families had rented beach houses just three doors away from each other. When Betsy got back, I’d called and invited her to walk to Lala’s Market with me, and on the way I’d asked her about the beach. “Did you guys hang out?”
Betsy had shrugged. “A little.”
“What’d you do?”
“Nothing. Forget about it.”
“Are you going to be friends with her now?”
“I told you, forget it.”
“So you like her?” I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, but Betsy kept on walking.
“Don’t make such a big deal about it,” she said.
“So why won’t you answer my question?” I caught up to her.
“You never know when to give up. You exaggerate everything.”
We’d bought Jolly Ranchers, and on our way home, I tried to stop being mad by telling her about the awesome thunderstorm we’d had while she was gone. Lightning had struck a telephone pole on our road and electri- cal wires had whipped in the wind like sparklers. The electricity had gone out, and all along the street we could see houses flickering inside, all lit up from candles. At her door, Betsy had said, “Wow, I wish I’d been here,” and I thought everything was back to normal.
But now everything was the opposite of normal. Betsy was friends with Mona.
I pictured them at the beach, walking to the end of a long jetty, then sitting on a rock above the waves, their families in a circle toasting marshmallows around a bonfire, singing “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” My family never went on vacations. My parents only liked cruises by themselves. Mona’s and Betsy’s parents were young. Mine were as old as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I know you’re not supposed to wish bad things on people, but if Mona Montagne had tripped at the bus stop and then fallen off the earth, I would have done an Irish jig.
When she and Betsy started whispering, I lost it. I pretended to sneeze and covered my face with my hands. I would have died if they caught me crying.
From the Hardcover edition.