Shingaling: A Wonder Story, p.3R. J. Palacio
“Stop staring!” I said to her.
“I can’t believe she’s eating with him,” she whispered, horrified.
“It’s not that big a deal,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Then why aren’t you having lunch with him?” she answered. “Aren’t you supposed to be his welcome buddy?”
“That doesn’t mean I have to sit with him at lunch,” I answered quickly, regretting that I’d told anyone that Mr. Tushman had chosen me to be Auggie’s welcome buddy. Yes, it was an honor that he had asked me, along with Julian and Jack—but I didn’t want anyone throwing it in my face!
All around the cafeteria, people were doing the exact same thing we were doing at our lunch table: staring at Auggie and Summer eating together. We were literally only a few hours into middle school, but people had already started calling him the Zombie Kid and Freak.
Beauty and the Freak. That’s what people were whispering about Summer and Auggie.
No way was I going to have people whisper stuff behind my back, too!
“Besides,” I said to Lina, taking a bite of my Caesar salad. “I like this table. I don’t want to switch.”
And that was true! I did like this table!
At least, at first I did.
But then, as I got to know everyone a little better, I realized that maybe I didn’t have as much in common with them as I would have liked. It turned out that Lina, Megan, and Rand were all super into sports (Maya played soccer, but that was all). So there was this whole world of soccer games and swim meets and “away games” that Ellie and I couldn’t really talk to them about. Another thing is that they had all chosen to be in orchestra, while Ellie and I had chosen chorus. And the last thing, very simply, was that they weren’t into a lot of the stuff we were into! They never watched The Voice or American Idol. They weren’t into movie stars or old movies. They had never even seen Les Misérables, for crying out loud! I mean, how could I have a serious friendship with someone who had no interest in seeing Les Mis?
But as long as I had Ellie to talk to, with Maya there to round us out, everything was totally fine by me. The three of us would chat about the stuff we wanted to talk about on our side of the table, and Megan, Lina, and Rand would chat about the stuff they wanted to talk about on their side of the table. And then we’d all catch up about the stuff we had in common—schoolwork, homework, teachers, tests, bad cafeteria food—in the middle of the table.
Which is why everything was good. Until Ellie switched tables!
And now it’s just me. And Maya.
Maya, who was only really fun to talk to when Ellie was there. Or if you wanted to play a rousing game of dots.
Look, I’m not mad at Ellie for switching tables. I honestly don’t blame her. Ever since we heard that Amos had a crush on her, it was like she’d gotten a free pass into the popular group. Savanna had asked her to sit with them at lunch, and then arranged it so Amos and Ellie sat next to each other. That’s how all the “couples” in the grade got together. Ximena and Miles. Savanna and Henry. And now, Amos and Ellie. In arranged group huddles. The popular boys and the popular girls. It was natural that they’d all want to stick together. Nobody else in our grade is dating or even close to dating! I know for a fact that the girls at my lunch table still act like boys have cooties! And, from what I can tell, most of the boys act like girls don’t exist.
So, yeah, I totally get why Ellie switched lunch tables. I really do. And I’m not about to be super-mad at her, like Maya is. It’s hard when you’ve been invited to a better lunch table. There’s kind of no looking back.
All I can do is sit and wait, talk to Maya, and hope that Savanna will ask me to join them at the popular table someday.
In the meanwhile, I draw Venn diagrams. And play lots and lots of dots.
How a New Subgroup Was Formed
The next day, right before lunch, this note was tacked to the announcement board outside of the library:
Congratulations to the girls listed below! You’ve been chosen to participate in Mrs. Atanabi’s 1960s dance performance. I’ve posted a rehearsal schedule on the website. Mark your calendars! No absences. No excuses. Our first rehearsal is tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. in the performance space. DO NOT DARE TO BE LATE!—Mrs. Atanabi
OMG, I got in! Yay!!!!!! I was so happy when I read my name on the list! Overjoyed! Ecstatic! Woo-hoo!
So it was me, Ximena—and Summer?
Whaaat! Summer? That was such a surprise! I was so positively sure it was going to be Savanna! I mean, Summer had just started taking dance! Did she really beat out Savanna?
Oh boy: I could only imagine how mad Savanna was at that. I bet her eww frown stretched clear across her face when she saw the list! And Ellie? Actually, I bet Ellie was somewhat relieved. She would have had a hard time keeping up with Ximena and Savanna, and Ellie never really loved dancing that much. I always kind of thought she was only into it because I’d always been into it. I was happy it worked out for her this way. I mean, she might not act like it, but she’s still my BFF.
And I was happy for me, too! Because even though I was hoping to get a bit closer to the Savanna group, I had also been a little stressed wondering if the Savanna and Ximena pairing would have iced me out.
But having Summer in the group along with Ximena? That was going to be awesome! Maybe the combined power of Summer’s niceness and my niceness would turn Ximena into one of us. At the very least, it might keep her from being the mean girl everyone seems to think she is. Not that I think she’s a mean girl. In fact, I barely know her! Either way, having Summer be the third girl in the dance made me so happy. I almost couldn’t stop smiling all day.
How I Saw Savanna
At lunch, I squeezed in next to Maya and Rand, who were hunched over yet another one of Maya’s giant dot games, which were getting more and more elaborate.
“So!” I said happily. “Good news, guys! I got picked to be in Mrs. Atanabi’s sixties dance show for the benefit in March! Yay!”
“Yay!” Maya answered, not looking up from the dot game. “That’s great, Charlotte.”
“Yay,” echoed Rand. “Congrats.”
“Summer got in, too.”
“Oh yay, good for her,” said Maya. “I like Summer. She’s always so nice.”
Rand, who was marking a row of boxes she had just closed off with her initial, looked up at Maya and smiled. “Fifteen!” she said.
“Argh!” said Maya, grinding her teeth. She had just gotten braces, and was making a lot of funny movements with her mouth these days.
I flicked my eraser at them. “That sure is one intense game of dots you’re playing there,” I said sarcastically.
“Ha-ha!” said Maya, leaning into me with her shoulder. “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.”
“The mean-girl table is looking at you,” said Rand.
“What?” I said. Both Maya and I turned around in the direction she was staring.
But Savanna, Ximena, Gretchen, and Ellie turned away the moment I glanced in their direction.
“They were so just talking about you!” said Maya, giving them her dirtiest look through her black-framed glasses.
“Stop that, Maya,” I said to her.
“Why? I don’t care,” she answered. “Let them see me.”
She bared her teeth at them like some kind of crazy ferret.
“Stop looking at them, Maya!” I whispered through my own gritted teeth.
“Fine,” she said.
She went back to playing her colossal game of dots with Rand, and I concentrated on eating my ravioli. At one point, I could feel someone’s eyes burning into my back, so I turned around to sneak a peek at the Savanna table again. This time around, Ximena, Gretchen, and Ellie were talking together, completely oblivious to me. But Savanna was glaring right at me! And she didn’t look away when our eyes met. She just continued staring me down. Then, right before she
That’s when I realized that I got it wrong before, about Summer taking the third spot in Mrs. Atanabi’s dance piece. I had thought that spot should have gone to Savanna, not Summer. But in Savanna’s view, it wasn’t Summer who had taken that spot from her. It was me! “Charlotte’s always the first to sign in,” she had said.
Savanna blamed me for taking her rightful spot in the dance!
How We Got Off to an Awkward Start
All the next day, the threat of a snowstorm made everyone kind of giddy and uncertain, since there was talk that the school would close early if it came down as bad as the forecast predicted. Luckily—because the last thing in the world I wanted was for our first rehearsal to be canceled!—the snow only started falling in the late afternoon. Not hard at all. So I made my way up to the performance space as quickly as I could after the last bell. Given that Mrs. Atanabi had issued such a threatening warning about being late, I wasn’t surprised that both Summer and Ximena were already there, too.
We said hello to one another before changing into our dance clothes. It was a little awkward at first, I guess. The three of us had never really hung out together before. We were from different groups, our own version of mammals, reptiles, and fish. Summer and I only had one class together. And, like I said before, I barely knew Ximena. The longest conversation we’d ever had was back in December, in Ms. Rubin’s class, when she asked me—without a shred of remorse—if I would mind switching partners with her so she could be paired up with Savanna. Which is how I ended up with Remo as my science fair project partner, but that’s a whole other story not worth telling.
We started doing warm-ups and stretches to pass the time. Mrs. Atanabi was now almost half an hour late!
“Do you think this is how it’s always going to be?” said Ximena, mid-battement. “Mrs. Atanabi being late?”
“She’s never on time to theater class,” I said, shaking my head.
“Right?” Ximena said. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Maybe she just got stuck in the snow?” Summer said, somewhat hopefully. “It’s starting to come down pretty hard now, I think.”
Ximena made a face. “Yeah, maybe she needs a dogsled,” she answered quickly.
“Ha-ha-ha!” I laughed.
But I could tell I sounded dorky.
Please, God, please don’t let me seem dorky in front of Ximena Chin.
The truth is: Ximena Chin made me a little nervous. I don’t know why exactly. It was just that she was so cool, and so pretty, and everything about her was always so perfect. The way she wrapped her scarf. The way her jeans fit her. The way she fastened her hair into the neatest twist. Everything was so flawless with her!
I remember from the moment Ximena started at Beecher Prep this year, everybody had wanted to be her friend. Including me! I’m sure she didn’t even remember this, but I was the one who helped her find her locker on the first day of school. I was the one who let her borrow a pencil in third period (which she never returned to me, come to think of it). But Savanna was the one who became her best friend. Savanna managed to zoom in on her within the first nanosecond of school. And then, forget it. It was like the Big Bang of friendships. It just exploded into an instantaneous universe of knowing looks and giggles and clothes and secrets.
There was really no chance of getting to know Ximena better after that. The truth is, she didn’t make much of an effort to expand beyond the Savanna group anyway. Maybe she felt like she didn’t actually have to. People said she was kind of a snob.
All I really knew about her was that she had the most amazing leg extension I’d ever seen, the highest scores in our grade, and she was snarky. Meaning, she made a lot of “clever observations” about people behind their backs. There were a bunch of people—like Maya, for instance—who couldn’t stand her. But I couldn’t wait to get to know her better. To be friends with her, maybe! To laugh at her sarcastic gibes. More than anything, though, I just really really really wanted her to like me!
“I hope this is all going to be worth the time-suck,” Ximena was saying. “I mean, we’ve got so many other things going on this month! That science fair project?”
“I haven’t even started mine,” said Summer.
“Me, neither!” I said, though that actually wasn’t true at all. Remo and I had finished our diorama of a cell the first week back from winter break.
“I just want to make sure we get enough rehearsal time for this dance,” Ximena said, looking at her phone. “I don’t want to be onstage at Carnegie Hall looking like a total idiot because we didn’t rehearse enough—all because Mrs. Atanabi was too flaky to show up on time.”
“You know,” I said, trying to sound casual, “if we ever need a place to rehearse away from school, you guys could come over to my house. I have a mirrored wall in my basement and a barre. My mom used to teach ballet out of our house.”
“I remember your basement!” said Summer cheerfully. “You had that Flower Fairy birthday party there once!”
“Back in the second grade,” I answered, a little embarrassed she would mention Flower Fairies in front of Ximena.
“Do you live far from here?” Ximena asked me, scrolling through her texts.
“Just ten blocks away.”
“Okay, text me your address,” she said.
“Sure!” I said, whipping out my phone, thinking I’m texting Ximena Chin my address like the big dork that I am. “Umm, sorry, what’s your number?”
She didn’t look up from her phone but held her hand up to my face, like a crossing guard. There, running vertically down the side of her palm, was her phone number written in neat block letters in dark blue pen. I keyed her number into my contacts and texted her my address.
“Hey, you know,” I said as I was texting, “you guys could come over tomorrow after school, if you want. We can start rehearsing then.”
“Okay,” Ximena mumbled casually, which made me want to gasp. Ximena Chin is coming over to my house tomorrow!
“Oh, I actually can’t,” said Summer, squinting her eyes apologetically. “I’m hanging out with Auggie tomorrow.”
“What about Friday, then?” I asked.
“Can’t,” said Ximena. She had obviously finished texting now and looked up.
“Then maybe next week?” I said.
“We’ll figure out some other time,” Ximena answered indifferently. She started running her fingers through her hair. “I forget you’re friends with the freak,” she said to Summer, smiling. “What’s that like?”
I don’t think she was even trying to be mean when she said this. That’s really just how a lot of people automatically referred to Auggie Pullman.
I looked at Summer. Don’t say anything, I thought.
But I knew she would.
How Nobody Gets Mad at the Lavender Fairy
Summer sighed. “Could you please not call him that?” she asked, almost shyly.
Ximena acted like she didn’t get it. “Why? He’s not here,” she said, pulling her hair into a ponytail. “It’s just a nickname.”
“It’s an awful nickname,” Summer answered. “It makes me feel bad.”
Here’s the thing with Summer Dawson: she has this way of talking where she can say stuff like this, and people don’t seem to mind. If I had said something like this? Forget it, people would be all over me about being a goody two-shoes! But when the Lavender Fairy does it, with her cute little eyebrows raised like smiles on her forehead, she doesn’t come off as preachy. She just seems sweet.
“Oh, okay, I’m sorry,” answered Ximena apologetically, her eyes open wide. “I honestly wasn’t trying to be mean, Summer. But I won’t call him that again, I promise.”
She sounded like she was genuinely sorry, but there was something about her expression that always made you wonder if she was being completely sincere.
Summer looked at her doubtfully. “It’s fine.”
“I really am sorry,” said Ximena, almost like she was trying to smooth out her dimple.
Now Summer smiled. “Totally cool beans,” she said.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” answered Ximena, giving Summer a little squeeze. “You really are a saint, Summer.”
For a second, I felt a quick pang of jealousy that Ximena seemed to like Summer so much.
“I don’t think anyone should call him a freak, either,” I said absently.
Now, here I have to stop and say something in my defense—I HAVE NO IDEA WHY I SAID THAT! It literally just came out of me, this stupid string of words hurling from my mouth like vomit! I knew immediately how obnoxious it made me sound.
“So you’ve never called him that,” Ximena said, raising one eyebrow high. The way she was looking at me, it was like she was daring me to blink.
“I um…,” I said. I could feel my ears turning red.
No, I’m sorry I said it. Don’t hate me, Ximena Chin!
“Let me ask you something,” she said quickly. “Would you go out with him?”
It was so out of the blue, I almost didn’t know what to say.
“What? No!” I answered immediately.
“Exactly,” she said, like she had just proved a point.
“But not because of how he looks,” I said, flustered. “Just because we don’t have anything in common!”
“Oh, come on!” laughed Ximena. “That’s so not true.”
I didn’t know what she was getting at.
“Would you go out with him?” I asked.
“Of course not,” she answered calmly. “But I’m not about to be hypocritical about it.”
I glanced at Summer, who gave me an ouch, that hurts look.
“Hey, I don’t want to be mean,” continued Ximena matter-of-factly. “But when you say, Oh, I would never call him a freak, it totally makes me look like a jerk because I had obviously just called him that, and it’s kind of annoying because everyone knows that Mr. Tushman asked you to be his welcome buddy and that’s why you don’t call him a freak like everybody else does. Summer became friends with him without anyone forcing her to be his welcome buddy, which is why she’s a saint.”
Shingaling: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio / Young Adult / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes