I hate the first day of school.
Not that that's anything unusual. I'm pretty sure no one counts down the days before we can bid summer good-bye and jump back into homework, tests, and getting up early.
But this year I'm especially dreading it. I'm starting middle school!
My parents told me there'd be nothing to worry about. "You'll love Walden," my mom had assured me this morning, smoothing out my jacket. "I remember going there when I was your age. There are so many people, the teachers are nice, and there's so much to do. Trust me, Di. You'll have a great time."
And for a little while, I believed her. But then I get on the bus, and that fleeting feeling of self-assuredness peels away like a wet leaf. One look at those seemingly endless rows of seats, almost all of which are occupied by rowdy kids or whispering cliques, and I seriously think about running back in the house and locking myself in my room for a month or so.
"Uh, Miss? We gotta keep going, hon," the bus driver says patiently. "Just grab a seat anywhere."
Easier said than done. I tentatively wade down the aisle, avoiding wadded-up paper and chewed gum. I scan fervently for an empty seat-something, it seems, that is far rarer in this bus than a clean one. Nearly every row is taken. I finally settle on a seat in the back next to Grace Tucci, who is too busy talking with her friend sitting in front of us to notice me.
We lurch forward, only stopping once more before we pull up in front of school.
"Everybody get off," the bus driver announces, somewhat like a train conductor, and we do. I take my time gathering up my backpack, trying to calm the violent butterflies knocking around in my stomach. I'm sweating so badly my glasses slip and threaten to fall off. I quickly shove them back up the bridge of my nose, which is a geeky move and I know it, but I'm too nervous to care. I make it off the bus just in time to nearly run over Alberta Knowlton, which is the worst thing I could possibly do.
"Watch where you're going!" she snaps, indignantly brushing off her designer jeans like I've spilled something on them. Her sapphire eyes flick menacingly over my outfit, searching for something to disapprove of.
"Couldn't grow out of that hat this summer, I see," she finally smirks, poking at my favorite orange beanie with a well-manicured finger. I can feel the heat rising in my cheeks. I love that hat-I knitted it myself last year, and I hardly ever take it off.
"Leave me alone, Alberta," I mutter, which has no effect on her. She gives me a little superior smile and rushes off into the crowd of kids clamoring in the front hall.
Suddenly I hear my name being called, and I turn to see my best friend and cousin, Kate Hawthorne, fighting her way through a pack of basketball-toting seventh graders. I hurry over, grateful to finally have someone I know around.
"Where were you this morning?" I demand as we walk towards the office. "You weren't on the bus."
"Farm issues," Kate explains matter-of-factly. She shoves her auburn hair back in a ponytail and gives me a wry smile. "Butterbean chose this morning of all mornings to go into labor, and by the time she had given birth, it was so late that my mom had to drive me."
"Really?" Kate knows I love hearing about her farm. "What are you naming the baby?"
"I'm not sure yet," Kate replies, tapping her fingers idly along the wall. "But I'm thinking something sweet-like Butterbean, you know? And by the way, baby goats are called kids."
"Got it," I say as we line up at the registrar's desk. She hands us our schedules and we immediately compare. My heart sinks when Kate shows me hers. We only have Science and English together this year.
"Don't worry, Diana!" Kate says breezily as we make our way to homeroom. "You'll do fine. Just be yourself-it always works!"
Kate heads to her class then, leaving me alone to find a seat for homeroom. There aren't too many students here yet, but enough to figure out that this is going to be a long year. Alberta is sitting in the front row, chatting animatedly with her best friends/clones, Trixie and McKayla. She gives me a little smirk when I come in. I feel my heart freeze up in ice and drop down to the pit of my stomach. It lifts a little when I see that Amy Archer, my sort-of-friend, is in homeroom with me. Amy hasn't changed much since I last saw her. She's really tall for her age, with a creamy complexion and dark almond-shaped eyes. She's half-Chinese, so her hair is amazingly straight and silky. As usual she's wearing her mom's designs-her mom, by the way, is THE Megan Archer, the woman who designed "Gigi by Archer." It's one of the top fashion trends right now, and Amy's always wearing some of her mom's new ideas to gauge reactions. As always, they look stunning on her. At least I'll have someone to talk to, I think.
I think wrong. I wave her over, but she totally ignores me. Instead, she takes a seat in the middle row and stares straight ahead, her back rigid against the blue plastic chair.
Without warning, hot tears prick my eyes. What did I do wrong? I know Amy and I aren't best buddies, but we hang out sometimes. We even went to the Concord Summer Festival together this year. Now, she acts like I never existed!
The day just goes downhill after that. Kate and I don't get to be lab partners in Science-she's paired with McKayla, and I'm paired with Trevor Lyons, the "science geek" who has a not-so-secret crush on me. In English, I get in trouble for talking. And, to top it all off, I accidentally drop my World History book on the teacher's toe. Everyone laughs-except me. And the teacher.
By the end of the day, I'm a wreck. I limply follow Kate onto the bus and regale her with my tales of woe as we head to my house-it's our tradition that we always eat dinner at my house on the first day of school. My mom is an AMAZING cook.
When we get off, I immediately relax. The cheerful soft yellow of our house makes it always feel sunny, even if it is an unseasonably cold Concord fall day. Kate and I hurry up the front porch and I unlock the front door.
"Hi, Mom! We're-oof!" I start to say before nearly tripping over a huge pile of books stacked right in the middle of the hall. I pick up the first one: Sense and Sensibility. My mom's favorite.
"Of course," I murmur to myself, carefully piling the books to one side. Only my mother would leave a stack of classic Austen novels in the front entry hall for everyone to trip over.
My parents, by the way, are obsessed with books. All books-especially classics. My mom loves Jane Austen, and my dad loves Mark Twain and John Steinbeck. So it's no surprise that my mom is a writer. Yep, my mom is an actual author. She usually writes adult historical fiction, like her dad did, but last year she started a series for kids my age. It's actually really good-and I'm not just saying that because she's my mom. Also, my dad is the assistant editor for the Concord Daily newspaper. Both my parents are in love with anything that has to do with writing or reading. Which means a lot of books scattered around the house. We have bookshelves in the kitchen, the family room-we even have one in the bathroom. My mom said her family did the same thing when she was my age, but I don't believe her.
Don't get me wrong, I love reading too. I'm not a big fan of the classics, though. I prefer stuff with more action and mystery than flowery romance. But my mom always says don't worry, I'll grow out of it.
"In here, sweetie," she calls from the kitchen. The wonderful, chocolatey aroma of brownies drifts lazily into the hallway.
Sure enough, my mom is baking when we come in. "Hi, girls!" she exclaims, giving us each a hug and a brownie. "A little first-day-of-school treat," she says, wiping her floury hands on her pink apron-the really old one that say Pies & Prejudice across the chest. I'm surprised it still fits.
"It's a new recipe I'm trying," she continues, putting the mixing bowl in the sink and moving a copy of East of Eden out of the range of brownie batter. "Tell me what you think."
I close my eyes-always a must when I'm trying Mom's new recipes-and sink my teeth into it. It's still warm and slightly soft, flaky around the edges and exploding with chocolate chips.
"Delicious, Mrs. Chadwick," Kate mumbles, wiping crumbs off her chin and giving her a grin, brownie hunks wedged into her braces. Mom smiles back and starts unloading the rest of the brownies onto the cooling rack.
"Glad you like them. Now, run along. Dinner's at six. Oh, and your father called," she pauses, looking right at me. "He's coming home early tonight. He wants to hear all about your first day of school."
"Really?" Dad leaves for work in the afternoons most of the time, and doesn't get home until 7 or 7:30. It's always special when he comes home early.
We leave Mom to her baking and head to my room. "Where's your brother?" Kate asks, glancing at his bedroom as we pass by. I roll my eyes. "Baseball. Where else?" My brother is in 8th grade and lives and breathes Baseball. He's the star pitcher and took his team to State Finals last year-and he won't let anyone forget it, either.
We talk about school for awhile, filling each other in about classmates, weird teachers, and the toughest assignments. We both can agree that 6th grade is not going to be much fun. Then I tell her about Amy and she frowns.
"Amy Archer? Are you sure?" she asks, fiddling with her earring. I nod. "Absolutely. I waved to her and saved her a seat and everything, but she totally ignored me. It was like I was invisible or something."
"And Alberta? Was she-"
"All over her," I confirmed, nodding grimly. "Alberta and her backup were gushing about Amy's clothes as usual, but for once Amy didn't seem to want to talk to even them."
"She's probably getting stuck up or something," Kate says darkly. "I hope not," I mumble, playing with the laces on my Converse. Amy's not my best friend in the world, but she's the only girl in my class that I am close to. How can I survive 6th grade without her?
A little later my dad comes home with Adam, my brother, and we all sit down for dinner. My mom has really outdone herself-she made roast chicken with stuffing, homemade rolls, and caesar salad, my all-time favorite. We all stuff our faces.
"So how was school today, you two? I mean-you three. Sorry, Kate," My dad smiles apologetically.
"Great!" Adam pipes up. "Coach is putting me in first rotation on Saturday. He says that the team depends on me this year a lot more. Plus, we have a chance of going all the way to Little League nationals this year if we step up our game." He glances at Dad and grins sheepishly. "Oh, yeah, and I got some really good classes. I got a really nice English teacher this year. She's new."
"How about you, Diana?" Dad asks me next. "How was your day."
"Oh, you know...the usual," I reply quickly, filling my mouth with chicken.
Mom shifts in her seat. "Well, seeing as this is your first day at Walden, I'm not sure what the usual is. What is the usual, dear?"
"We didn't make the same classes," Kate pipes up. I swallow hard and nod. "I'm in a class with Amy Archer this year," I offer. Mom's brow furrows. "Amy Archer...? Oh, yes, Megan's daughter. Well, that should be nice, won't it? She's such a sweet girl."
Kate and I don't say anything.
"I have to say, I haven't seen Megan for the longest time. I keep meaning to call her, but she's always so busy-you know, with her fashion line and everything," Mom continues, eyeing Kate and me strangely.
"Well, then, thank goodness you decided to bring this up," Dad replies, patting her hand affectionately. "I thought it was a marvelous idea from the start, and everyone else thought it was great, too, so-"
"What was a great idea?" I ask suspiciously. Mom's grinning from ear to ear now. Uh-oh. the last time I saw her this happy was when we went on that walking tour of Historic Concord that took 6 hours. Trust me-not fun.
"Well, girls-you, too, Kate," Mom says, her eyes dancing behind her wire-framed glasses. My dad says writers who wear glasses look even more distinguished. I just think they make her look pretty.
"A few other mothers and I were talking, and we decided-well, do you remember that book club that I was in when I was your age? The Mother-Daughter Book Club?"
"Yes..." Suddenly I know what's coming and I'm not sure I like it.
"Well, we thought it would be an excellent idea to restart it! It's the Mother-Daughter Book Club, Chapter Two! Isn't it exciting?"
"Umm..." I glance over at Kate, whose face is impassive. Adam's smirking to himself into his plate of chicken. Dad looks like it's the greatest idea since eBooks.
I think it's the worst thing that's happened all day.
And a lot of bad things happened today.