Nothing but trouble, p.1
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       Nothing but Trouble, p.1

           Jacqueline Davies
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Nothing but Trouble


  To Dadaists, everywhere



































  Activities #1: Why Maggie Loves Sir Isaac Newton

  #2: What If Middle School Observed the Laws of Motion?

  #3: How to Make a Dada Poem

  #4: Are You a Secret Dadaist?

  #5: Maggie’s List of Famous Margarets

  About the Author

  Books by Jacqueline Davies



  About the Publisher


  EXPLOSIONS ARE A FACT OF LIFE. At least they were in Maggie Gallagher’s life. Her only goal was to keep them quiet—contained and undetected.

  This morning, that hadn’t worked out so well, despite the fact that she was down in the basement.

  “What on God’s green earth was that?” bellowed Grandpop from the first floor.

  “Nothing, Grandpop!” shouted Maggie, waving her hands back and forth to clear the smoke. Although Maggie loved explosions, this one had been discouraging. Her summer-long quest to concoct the perfect fuel for a hydraulic press would have to wait. It was the first day of sixth grade and she was late.

  Switching gears, she turned her attention to what she needed to get out the door, ticking off items on her mental list as she climbed each stair: Lunch money? Check. Backpack? Check. Combination lock for school locker? Check. Secret package on the front porch? Check. Hair clip? Hair clip—? Maggie frantically ran her fingers through her long, unruly hair. Oh, fizz! Her curly, out-of-control hair would just have to stay that way for the first day of school. Emily and Allie would scold her, but Maggie didn’t care if her head looked like an explosion in progress.

  How did it get to be so late?

  Her grandfather followed her into the cramped kitchen, wheeling his chair over the worn bump of the threshold with a grunt of effort. “Sounded like you drove a pickup truck through a brick wall down there!” he said.

  “No, just dropped something,” said Maggie, wincing slightly at the lie. It was awful to admit, but ever since Grandpop had been confined to a wheelchair, it had been a whole lot easier to get away with things. For example, at this very moment, she had the entire vacuum cleaner laid out in pieces on the floor of her bedroom upstairs.

  “Well, I hope you weren’t messing with my stuff!” said Grandpop irritably. Maggie pictured the towering pile of auto parts he had collected over the years that became older and rustier the longer it was heaped in the basement. Then she reminded herself that she was doing her part to clean up that mess. She was recycling, after all. Still, she couldn’t help feeling a snip of guilt as she thought of the secret package hidden on the porch.

  “Grandpop, is there anything I can do for you before I go to school?” asked Maggie.

  “’Bout time you asked!” Grandpop got crankier in the hot weather, which was saying something, because he was pretty grouchy in the winter, too. “Wheel me out to the porch where I can catch a breeze,” he grumbled.

  Maggie froze, her backpack hoisted on one shoulder. If she wheeled Grandpop out on the porch now, he would see her pick up the hidden box ready for mailing, and she couldn’t risk him asking questions. Not about that!

  “I’m so late, Grandpop!”

  “Oh, for Pete’s sake!” he said in complete exasperation. “Could you at least hand me a Moxie from the fridge before you run off?”

  Maggie hurried to the refrigerator to grab the cold bottle of soda. Before he lost his leg, Maggie’s grandfather had worked on the line for forty years at the Odawahaka Bottling Company, which bottled the sweet, fizzy soft drink that was the town’s last remaining pride and joy. Maggie popped the top and handed the bottle to her grandfather, warning him, “That drink is nothing but high-fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, and sodium benzoate.”

  “Ha! Shows what you know, Miss Smarty-Pants. It’s got gentian root, and that’s medicine. Good for digestion! Plus, it’s only got two hundred and fifty calories per bottle.”

  “But you drink ten bottles a day!”

  Her grandfather reached over to smack her one, but Maggie scooted past, shouting “Love you!” as she hightailed it out the door. On the front porch, she retrieved the large package hidden under a plastic tablecloth and began to head down the hill to Oda M. She needed to be quick if she was going to make it to the post office and still get to school before the first bell, but the package was heavy and kept slipping out of her grasp. And no matter what, she couldn’t risk running into . . .

  Oh no! There they were. Emily and Allie. And waiting for her, too. Maggie leaped behind the hedge that surrounded Mrs. Plainfield’s house on the corner. She pushed the heavy package among the roots and wedged herself into the bush so that she could survey the scene without being spotted herself. Emily and Allie were her two best friends, but she couldn’t tell them what was in the box. That was “top secret,” which was one level higher than “best-friend secret.” And anyway, lately Maggie had been questioning if Allie and Emily really fit the category of “best friend” at all.

  She wasn’t able to hear what the girls were saying to each other, but there was a lot of chatter and laughter—the high-energy, slightly nervous kind you hear on the first day of school. And then the two spontaneously burst into song—probably one that they’d learned together at chorus camp over the summer. They were singing in harmony, Allie taking the high notes and Emily carrying the low. They sounded so perfect together, it made Maggie want to jump out of the bushes and say, “Here I am!” interrupting the song she couldn’t sing and closing up the distance she’d been feeling ever since her friends had returned from camp. But then Allie messed up, and both girls collapsed in giggles, and something about the way they were laughing—Was it possible to laugh in harmony?—made Maggie squeeze farther into the bush.

  Once they had stopped, Emily looked up the hill, past the bush that Maggie was hiding in, and said, “I don’t think she’s coming.” Maggie could hear the disappointment in her voice.

  “Maybe we missed her,” said Allie. “At least we all have homeroom together.”

  “With Mrs. Matlaw!” sang Emily. And both girls started to run down the hill, singing yet another song that Maggie didn’t know.

  Maggie sighed. This was not the way you were supposed to feel about your two best friends.

  “Do you hide in bushes a lot?”

  Maggie stumbled backward out of the hedge, tripping over the package at her feet and falling to the ground.

  A tall girl was standing on Mrs. Plainfield’s lawn, and she laughed in a friendly way, reaching down to give Maggie a hand up.

  “I never hide in bushes!” said Maggie, which was so completely untrue that even she started to laugh. The girl’s grip was strong, and Maggie was back on her feet in an instant.

  Maggie inspected the girl, who looked like she was in eighth or ninth grade. She had dark brown hair cut short in a stylish pixie with long, dramat
ic bangs that fell like a waterfall to one side. She was much taller than Maggie—but then again, just about everybody was—and she had a whole row of tiny, bright gemstone stud earrings circling the outside of one ear, which made Maggie think of a rainbow. The girl wore a white T-shirt with gray lettering across the front, but Maggie couldn’t read the words because the leather strap of the girl’s low-slung mailbag covered them up. No backpack for this girl. She was clearly from another planet.

  Normally, Maggie would have asked a dozen questions—What’s your name? Where do you live? Did you get your ears pierced all at once or one at a time? What does your T-shirt say? Where do you come from? And why are you here? It had been so long since Maggie had seen a strange face in Odawahaka that her natural curiosity went into overdrive. But for the moment, she just stared blankly, trying to organize her chaotic questions into some kind of reasonable marching order. The girl smiled pleasantly through the long pause, then pointed to Maggie’s feet and asked, “What’s in the box?”

  The box!

  Don’t answer that! warned her father’s voice inside her head.

  Like a flock of birds that had been startled by a coyote’s call, all of Maggie’s questions took flight and scattered at once. She reached down and grabbed the box, apologizing as she backed away: “I’m so late! Sorry! The bus to the high school picks up in front of the Opera House.” At least she could offer that piece of friendly welcome-to-town advice. Then she turned tail and hurried as fast as she could with the unwieldy package in her arms for the remaining two blocks to the post office. Thank goodness Emily and Allie were nowhere in sight.


  “OOH, THAT’S A HEAVY ONE, HON!” said Mrs. Barrett, swiveling in her tall seat to stare over the post office counter. Behind her, she had hung a Wildcats banner to remind everyone about Friday’s opening game—as if they needed reminding!

  “I know!” said Maggie, heaving the package onto the postal scale. “I carried it.”

  And practically dropped it, reminded her father, unhelpfully.

  “Hush,” whispered Maggie, annoyed.

  “What, sweetie?” asked Mrs. Barrett.

  “Nothing!” She scooped up the unruly mess of curly blond hair that exploded from her head and whipped it into a messy knot. Without a hair clip, the whole thing would come undone within a minute. Oh well.

  “Your mom’s not taking you to school today?” Mrs. Barrett glanced toward the post office window as if she expected to see Maggie’s mother, standing alone out there, peering in. The implied criticism of her mother managed to both annoy and sting Maggie at the same time.

  “No,” she said quickly. She was already reaching into her pocket for the money, wishing she could steer the conversation away from her mother. Away, away, away.

  “I haven’t seen her in ages. Now, when I went to Oda M,” said Mrs. Barrett, slowly tapping away on her computer keyboard, “I always—”

  “Mrs. Barrett!” said Maggie, trying not to let total panic overtake her as she looked at the cold face of the clock on the wall. “I’m super late! Can I just leave money and the package and then we’ll figure it all out later?”

  The smile disappeared from Mrs. Barrett’s face. “No, dear. Perhaps if your mother had gotten you up earlier this morning, you wouldn’t be in such a hurry now.” She turned her attention back to her keyboard, murmuring, “I still can’t believe they’re tearing the old school down.”

  It was true that the Odawahaka Middle School was scheduled to be demolished. As the population of the town dwindled, the decrepit building had become too expensive to keep up. But neither the newer elementary school nor the high school could absorb Oda M’s students all at once, so the plan was to peel each grade off, one year at a time. The eighth graders had been the first to go, followed by the fifth graders, and then the seventh graders. This year, only the sixth graders would be left to rattle through the halls of the mouse-infested school. A wrecking ball would reduce it to rubble once they moved on.

  Mrs. Barrett continued to cluck as Maggie stifled an audible groan. “All the way to Texas!” said the postal clerk, punching the zip code into her keyboard. “My, my. That family of yours.” And there was more than a hint of disapproval in her voice. “You do send packages all over, don’t you?”

  This kind of “neighborly interest” was just one of the many terrible things about living in a town as small as Odawahaka, and just one of the many, many reasons Maggie couldn’t wait to get out.

  Mrs. Barrett stared at her. “Thirty-one dollars and fifty-three cents. It’ll get there by Friday.”

  Maggie pushed thirty-two dollars across the counter and said, “Keep the change! I’m late!” Then she ran for the door. Odawahaka Middle School was just eight blocks away and all downhill, but the first bell would ring any minute, and Maggie would have to run the whole way. Her careful plan had been to get to school early, and now she would hardly make it there before the beginning of homeroom.

  “I can’t keep the change!” called Mrs. Barrett after her. “It messes up my cashing out!” But Maggie was gone and flying down the hill, her wild hair bursting out of its makeshift bun and streaming like tightly curled yellow party ribbons behind her. Flying past Quinn, past Main, past Kline and South, all the streets she had known her entire life. Flying into her future, but also to the school that held the memories of her family’s past and everything that had gone wrong.

  Maggie couldn’t wait for it to be demolished.


  THE FIRST BELL WAS JUST RINGING as Maggie bounded through the front doors and stood in the entryway of Odawahaka Middle School. It had been a grand building when it was first constructed nearly eighty years ago. There was a small rotunda overhead, and in the center of the tiled floor, right in front of the main office, was a large bronze statue of the town mascot: a lunging wildcat with its fangs bared and claws extended. It was kind of scary, but to the citizens of Odawahaka, the statue meant just one thing: this was Wildcat Country, and the town took great pride in its high school football team.

  These days, it seemed like the only thing the town still had to be proud of.

  Maggie’s heart was beating fast from running, but she needn’t have worried about receiving a tardy slip. Pandemonium had overtaken the entire building.

  The lockers, defenseless without any combination locks, were under attack. Students were flipping open the doors and then moving on instantly to the next as if in search of hidden treasure. Other students were simply banging the doors shut for the pleasure of the noise that rebounded and echoed in the high-ceilinged hallway. And still other students were racing toy cars up and down the hall or throwing tennis balls so that they ricocheted off the walls, lockers, and the Wildcat statue. The noise put Maggie’s morning explosion to shame.

  All of a sudden, a zooming toy car hit Maggie’s sneaker and flipped over on itself. She reached down to pick it up. There was a small rubber mouse jammed into the driver’s seat, as if the mouse had taken control of the machine.

  Max Pruitt ran up to her to retrieve the car. In his hand, he held a rip cord. “Listen to this,” he shouted to Maggie over the incredible noise in the hallway. He loaded the rip cord into the car and pulled with all his might. The car let out a mighty ROAR! When he placed it on the floor, the car and mouse took off at an incredible speed. Maggie quickly estimated that if you took into account the size of the car, it was traveling at the equivalent of four hundred miles per hour. Wow, she thought. I didn’t think those things could go that fast.

  Dozens of toy cars raced up and down the hall, and hundreds of tennis balls rolled about madly, like gerbils set free from their cages. One tennis ball sailed through the air and whacked Maggie on the shoulder. She picked it up and smiled when she saw that the word ROAR was written on it with Sharpie pen in careful block letters.

  She bounced the tennis ball so high it flew over her head and hit the ceiling, then began an interesting pattern of diminishing oscillation that she would have liked to
study, but Grace McHenry grabbed the ball and was off with it.

  “Maggie!” squealed Emily as she and Allie ran up to her. “We waited on the corner but figured you’d gone ahead. And then we saw this!”

  “What’s happening?” asked Maggie. “Why is everyone going nuts?”

  “Lyle was the first one to discover it!” said Allie as all three girls linked arms and walked toward homeroom, dodging balls and race cars as they went. “We were all just standing around in the hallway, waiting for the homeroom teachers to let us in, and Lyle started opening lockers just because . . . well, who ever knows why Lyle does what he does?”

  “He was probably looking for food,” said Emily.

  “He’s always looking for food,” said Maggie. All three girls had known Lyle Whittaker since kindergarten, when he famously ate twelve rubber bands during one recess period.

  “So he just happened to flip open this one locker,” said Allie, “and about a hundred tennis balls came spilling out! All over the floor! So then other kids started opening lockers and found the cars. And that was all it took. The whole place has gone completely insane!”

  “Who’s that?” asked Maggie, spotting a man in a suit and tie who didn’t look much older than Emily’s college-age brother. He had commandeered one of the toy race cars and was playing with the rip cord, running it back and forth to create an impressive roaring noise, as if he was itching to let ’er rip.

  “That’s the new math teacher, Mr. Platt,” said Allie. “He’s cute, don’t you think?” And she squeezed Maggie’s arm as if they both felt exactly the same way about this.

  Maggie made a face. Ever since getting back from chorus camp that summer, Emily and Allie had started talking about which boys were “cute” and which boys were “supercute.” Maggie didn’t get it. Boys were just . . . boys. The same as they’d always been. And math teachers? It was not possible for a math teacher to be cute.

  As if to prove her point, Max and Tyler came barreling toward them. “Comin’ through!” yelled Max as they crashed through the trio of girls, breaking them up, then set up their race cars at the far end of the hall in an attempt to set a distance record. Emily and Allie laughed, but Maggie was as interested as the boys to see how far the cars could go.

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