Chapter 1

It was way too early on a Friday morning in mid-September when I packed up all my belongings and got on a bus for the Juneau airport. There was no family to say goodbye or comfort me as I started my trip to live with my old grandfather Barley in Sporks, Washington. I had the feeling that this was going to be the suckiest, most horrible thing that had ever happened to me.

Yeah, I was seriously dreading this. It was just in so many ways not me to go live in this tiny little town where everyone was completely clueless about fashion and everything… normal. Sporks happened to be the place in the United States that got the least precipitation. Seriously, like, nobody would want it to be totally rainy because it would be impossible to get a tan, but dryness is so not good for your skin either. Alaska isn't exactly known for its warmness, but at least we're not freaks.

I was also worried about my reputation there in stupid Sporks. Here I had been super popular, but most of my old friends were probably going to ditch me now that I was forced to move. And the high schoolers in Sporks wouldn't be great friend material. They probably were all huge nerds and dressed like grandparents… Just the thought disgusted me.

Okay, I usually wasn't such a pessimist. It just didn't seem fair that I'd have to give up my old life just because my mom had some mental issues. A few weeks ago, the Child Protection Services had showed up at our front door and told my mom she was an unfit parent. She'd been sent to a "special place" (a.k.a. sort of an insane asylum) where she was supposedly getting treatment for her condition, so I was forced to pack up and move.

I found this totally stupid, because, like, she wasn't even a bad parent! Of course she had her ups and downs (mostly downs), but everyone does! Plus, she'd always throw the best parties and give me tons of money to buy whatever I want. So, what do the Child Protection Services know? Child? I'm seventeen. Puh-lease!

Plus, Barley apparently has this reputation for being a little, um, messed up in the head. He'll be able to take care of me fine and everything (darn it) but at eighty-five his memory isn't the best and his experiences from some old war he was in seem to haunt him. I haven't seen him since I was lie six, which is about ten years or something – math is so not my thing. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't want everyone in town – no matter how crazy they are – to get a bad impression of me just because of my loony old grandfather.

On that thought, I was brought back to the reality of the empty bus I was sitting in. The bored driver took no notice of me; in fact, his eyelids were drooping. At least if he fell asleep and we crashed and died, it would be better than the miserable life I was going to have in Sporks.

But sadly, we didn't crash and if the driver was asleep, well, he could somehow drive straight anyway. Since it was still so dark, I was able to use the side of the bus as a mirror to work on my look. I had touched up my makeup and completely redone my hair by the time the bus stopped at the airport.

With the help of the bus driver, whom I'd had to tap sharply on the shoulder and scream "HELLO?" in his ear before noticed me, I was able to get my four huge suitcases of stuff off the bus. I went into the airport and somehow found my way through the ticket check-in place, luggage check (I'd wanted to carry on, but apparently that wasn't going to happen) and that weird place where they scan you. But they had to pull me aside then because apparently I wasn't allowed to bring a hair straightener onto the plane in my purse.

After all that confusion was over, I barely made it to my flight in time. And of course, then I was stuck in the middle seat between two old lady friends who had probably never looked in a mirror in their life. They kept leaning over me to chat about knitting and their bridge club and stupid stuff like that. There were only like twenty other passengers on the tiny plane, anyway. And you know how on long plane rides they usually have movies you can watch? Well I guess whoever built this one – probably people from Sporks – had never heard of portable TVs. Ugh.

So I sat, squished, between the two old ladies for what seemed like forever. Finally, I flipped open my cell phone and speed-dialed my best friend Katie's number.

"Hey, Katie," I said after she answered.

"Oh, hi, Stella… what's up? Isn't today, like, the day you're moving to that little town with all the crazy people?"

"Duh, Katie. Like you'd forget the day your own best friend was leaving. I'm on the plane right now. But what else am I supposed to do when I'm stuck on a plane between two grannies for a super long time? Talk about bridge?"

I spoke the last three words loudly and gave the women a glare to make sure they knew they were bugging the crap out of me.

"But, like, Stella, I don't mean to sound like a wimp or anything, but isn't using your cell phone during a flight bad or something?"

I rolled my eyes and tried to ignore the lit-up symbol of a cell phone with a line on it that sat clearly on a little ledge near the ceiling. "Chill, Katie, what could possibly happen?" I said as the plane suddenly gave a violent shake.

"Okay, but it's not like I want you to die or anything. Who else is going to show Sporks what cool really means? Your grandpa?"

I rolled my eyes again, but decided it really was a good idea to not use my phone anymore. "Yeah, well, I gotta go now. I think the fat grannies are getting pissed. I'll call you when I'm settled in."

Whew. The rest of our flight passed smoothly and soon we had landed in Sporks.I stepped into the miniscule airport, which only had two whatever-they're-calleds, places where you wait for the plane.

Anyway, I headed immediately to the bathroom to fix my look. When I came out, I pulled out a magazine and sat on a nearby bench to wait for Barley.

"Stella!"

I groaned and pulled myself out of 101 Cute Fall Outfits to see my grandpa standing in front of me. "Hi," was all I said.

He looked pretty much the same as I remembered except slightly older, and I hadn't recalled his wardrobe being this bad. Still, he was pretty rich, so maybe he'd spoil me if we got off on the right foot.

"Uh, I mean, hey Bar- Grandpa!" I exclaimed with fake sweetness.

"Hey there, kiddo! Come here and give your old grandpy a big hug!"

I winced inwardly, then gestured to my newly perfected hair as if to explain. After a moment of silence I decided what the heck and just stood there awkwardly while he threw his arms around me in a bone-shattering hug.

I had to nudge him in the stomach several times before he got the hint and pulled away.

"You're right, let's not waste time," he said. "Grab your bags and we'll head on back to my house. I baked you some yummy homemade applesauce."

Okay, I seriously didn't know how it was possible to bake applesauce, but I guess that was where the craziness came in.

Barley drove back to his house in silence.

I, on the other hand, was attempting to make conversation. I tried to inform him about all the latest celeb gossip, not that he was cool enough to care. Then I started describing each of my close friends in detail – all three hundred of them.

I think he was tuning me out, though, because he kind of jerked to attention when we pulled up in what I assumed was his driveway.

I got out of the rusty old pickup and stood back to take in his house. It was off-white with blue trim. It was pretty large and looked old, but overall it wasn't that bad. Sort of.

I dragged my suitcases toward the door and Barley unlocked it for me. I found myself in a small entryway, then went further into the house to see a smallish kitchen, a living room/dining room area, and a door to what I assumed was the master bedroom.

Well, it wasn't great. Not that I was a neat freak or anything, but it was pretty messy. And Barley had totally awful taste in furniture, wallpaper, and decorations. This house needed a makeover if I, Stella Goose, was going to have to live in it.

"Hey, Stella," Barley said. "Your bedroom's upstairs. I thought you might want to get settled in a little, then we can have a nice supper." He turned and started walking up the stairs.

What an idiot. "Supper"? And it was only two-thirty, which was like hardly after lunch. But I followed him upstairs, down a short hallway, and into a (surprise) small bedroom. It had cream-colored wallpaper with some sort of weird cherubs and flowers on it, with gold loopy cursive that said The Lord Loves You.

I mouthed the words oh, my god to nothing in particular as I surveyed the rickety brown bed, desk, and dresser, the scene made me want to throw up, plus there wasn't a mirror in sight.

"You alright there, sweet corn?"

Apparently he had his own variation of "sweet pea".

"Oh… yeah, totally fine, Barley. I'll just get settled in now, I guess." I gave him a forced smile and he turned to leave.

I spent literally hours putting all my stuff away in the crappy closet and dresser. It seemed like a waste of time, since this room was going to get a makeover anyway. Like, soon.

At least I had my own bathroom. It wasn't exactly fancy, but it was pink and there wasn't anything in it that was religious or made me immediately think blech. Still, a hot tub would have been nice. I wondered if there was any way I could have one installed…

When I had finished unpacking my necessities, I lay down for a short nap.

Half an hour later, I awoke to Barley calling my name. Groaning, I pulled myself out of the stupid tiny bed and went downstairs.

"Time for some yummy homemade supper, sweet corn," he announced, a weird grin on his face.

I gulped, but followed him to the table, where a platter of unidentifiable food sat. I slipped into a rickety chair and wrinkled my nose in disgust. "Exactly what is this?" I asked.

"Pickled mandarin oranges in salty carrot sauce," he said easily, as if that was perfectly normal.

"And you got this recipe out of the Crazy Old Man's Guide to What NOT to Cook?"

Either he didn't understand my insult or was ignoring me, but he started eating and didn't say anything after that. I could hardly even stand to look at him shoveling the gross food into his mouth like it was the best thing in the world.

Luckily, he didn't seem to be paying attention to me at all, so I was able to hide some of my portion in my napkin, and I moved some around to make it look like I'd been eating. When enough time had passed, I excused myself from the table.

"Full already there, sweet corn?" he asked, a concerned look on his face.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. "Yeah, uh, it was totally great, I'm just tired and stuff."

"Okay, then," he replied, convinced. "Sleep well."

As it turned out, I didn't sleep well that night. It might have been the piece-of-crap bed that creaked whenever I moved, or perhaps the feeling that I was about to be introduced to a whole new, sucky lifestyle. The people here were probably all a lot like Barley: totally insane, old-fashioned, and religious. I'd be lucky if I could find one friend.

On Saturday morning I wanted to go get a bunch of new stuff for my room – the quicker I got rid of the junk that was already in there, the better. I explained my situation to Barley.

"That's great, sweet corn, take my credit card and spend as much as you want. I don't know what to do with my money anymore," he said with his creepy grin. The great thing about Barley was that he was never insulted by anything I said (I'd tested that theory out several times).

So I took his Visa card and car keys and drove a ton of miles to Seattle, where I immediately went to the mall. I was planning to only get furniture, but then I passed some of the clothing stores and figured Barley wouldn't care if I added to my wardrobe.

Over an hour and six hundred dollars later, I headed to Home Depot. Five ginormous shopping bags sat in the backseat of Barley's disgusting old pickup. Ugh. I was so not going to be seen in this.

At Home Depot, I started picking out everything I wanted in my new room. A couch, a TV, a queen bed, wallpaper, a hot tub for the bathroom, a table, a minifridge… the list could go on. I actually ended up going to some other stores for some of it. The total came to like, eight thousand something, but Barley said he had extra money. I also made sure the delivery people were going to come tomorrow to put everything in.

Satisfied, I headed to Barley's house again. When I got there, he was quietly reading a paper in his armchair. How boring was this man?

"Here Barley, take your credit card and car keys," I said boredly, tossing them toward him.

"How did it go, Splenda?"

"It's Stella, unless "splenda" is another of your creepy variations on endearments, like instead of sugar or honey or something. And like, splenda is totally gross, but at least it's calorie-free. Oh, I got a bunch of stuff, and the delivery people are bringing it tomorrow to set it up."

He nodded. "Great job. Shopping is a very important skill these days for kids like you."

As weird as that sounded coming from him, for once I totally agreed with Barley.

I spent Sunday tanning in the backyard while the delivery people set up all my stuff. All the old furniture was moved downstairs and the wallpaper got completely stripped away. It took a really long time because they kept putting the furniture in the wrong places, so I had to scream at them to fix it.

"Are you listening to me, idiots?" I yelled. "The bed goes near the window, and the plasma screen TV on the wall opposite it. It's really not that hard to get."

"Sorry, ma'am, but you said-"

"Don't you dare call me "ma'am". And the other TV goes in the bathroom facing the hot tub. It's not like I'm going to watch TV from the toilet. Speaking of which, how is the hot tub coming? It better be done soon."

"We're sorry, but we've been working so hard on the wallpaper that-"

"I DON'T CARE!" I screamed. "Just get it finished!"

That night, after another nasty dinner of deep-fried celery with watery mustard, I lay in my new, large bed and closed my eyes. Tomorrow was my first day at Sporks High School, and I was sure everyone was going to love me. I mean, what could they not like? Maybe my grandpa, but I'd just have to deal with that.

I had a nice new home (at least my room was nice) and a grandpa who let me spend tons of money. But I suddenly felt overwhelmed by anger toward my mom. How could she do this to me? And my friends… It was like they wanted me to move. I cried and cried until I fell asleep.