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Shingaling a wonder stor.., p.4
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       Shingaling: A Wonder Story, p.4

           R. J. Palacio
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  “I’m not a saint,” Summer answered quickly. “And I don’t think Charlotte would have called him that, even if Mr. Tushman hadn’t asked her to be a welcome buddy.”

  “See? You’re being a saint even now,” said Ximena.

  “I don’t think I would have called him a freak,” I said quietly.

  Ximena crossed her arms. She was looking at me with a knowing smile.

  “You know, you’re nicer to him when you’re in front of teachers,” she said very seriously. “It’s been noticed.”

  Before I could answer—not that I even knew what I would have answered—Mrs. Atanabi burst into the performance space through the double doors in the back of the auditorium.

  “So sorry I’m late, so sorry I’m late!” she announced breathlessly, covered in snow. She looked like a little snowman as she walked down the stairs carrying four ridiculously full tote bags.

  Ximena and Summer ran up the stairs to help her, but I turned around and walked out to the hallway. I pretended to drink at the water fountain, but what I really needed to gulp down was air. Ice-cold air. Because I could feel my cheeks burning, like they were on fire. It felt like I’d just gotten slapped in the face. I could see out the hallway window that the snow really was coming down hard now, and a part of me just wanted to run outside and ice-skate away.

  Is that how other people saw me? Like I was this hypocritical fake or something? Or was that just Ximena being her typical snarky self?

  You’re nicer to him when you’re in front of teachers. It’s been noticed.

  Is that true? Has it been noticed? I mean, have there been a couple of times when I was being especially nice to Auggie Pullman because I knew it would get back to Mr. Tushman that I was being a good welcome buddy? Maybe. I don’t know!

  But even if that were the case, at least I can say I’ve been nice to him! That’s more than most people can say! That’s more than Ximena can say! I still remember that time she was partnered with Auggie in dance class and looked like she was about to throw up. I’ve never done anything like that to Auggie!

  Okay, so maybe I am a little nicer to Auggie when teachers are around. Is that so horrible?

  It’s been noticed? What does that even mean? Noticed by who? Savanna? Ellie? Is that what they say about me? Is that what they were talking about in the lunchroom yesterday, when they were so obviously talking about me that even Maya—who can be so clueless about social stuff—felt sorry for me?

  Here this whole time I had assumed that Ximena Chin didn’t even know who I was! And now, it turns out, I’ve been noticed. More than I ever wanted to be.

  How I Received My First Surprise of the Day

  I walked back inside the performance space as Mrs. Atanabi finished unwrapping herself from all her wintry layers. Her coat, her scarf, and her sweater were all scattered around her on the floor, which was wet from the snow she had brought inside with her.

  “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” she kept saying over and over again, fanning herself with both hands. “It’s really starting to come down now.”

  She plopped onto the piano bench in front of the stage and caught her breath. “Oh my gosh, I do hate being late!”

  I saw Ximena and Summer exchange knowing looks.

  “When I was little,” Mrs. Atanabi continued, talking in that chatterbox way of hers that some people loved and some people thought made her seem crazy, “my mother actually used to charge my sister and me one dollar every time we were late for something. Literally, every time I was late—even if it was just for dinner—I had to pay my mom a dollar!” She laughed and started redoing her bun, holding a couple of bobby pins in her teeth while she talked. “When your entire allowance for the week is only three bucks, you learn to budget your time! That’s why I’m conditioned to hate being late!”

  “And yet,” Ximena pointed out, smiling in that sly way of hers, “you were still late today. Maybe we should charge you a dollar from now on?”

  “Ha-ha-ha!” laughed Mrs. Atanabi good-naturedly, flicking off her boots. “Yes, I was late, Ximena! And that’s actually not a bad idea. Maybe I should give all three of you a dollar!”

  Ximena kind of laughed, assuming she was joking.

  “In fact,” Mrs. Atanabi said, reaching for her pocketbook, “I think I’m going to give each one of you girls a dollar bill every time I’m late to a rehearsal. From now on! That’ll force me to be on time!”

  Summer shot me a quizzical look. We started to realize that Mrs. Atanabi, who had pulled out her wallet, was serious.

  “Oh no, Mrs. Atanabi,” said Summer, shaking her head. “You don’t have to do that.”

  “I know! But I’m going to!” answered Mrs. Atanabi, smiling. “Now, here’s the rub. I’ll agree to give each of you a dollar every time I’m late to a rehearsal if you agree to give me a dollar every time you’re late for a rehearsal.”

  “Are you allowed to do that?” Ximena asked incredulously. “Take money from a student?”

  I was thinking the same thing.

  “Why not?” answered Mrs. Atanabi. “You’re in private school. You can afford it! Probably more than I can.” This last part she muttered. And then she started cracking up.

  Mrs. Atanabi was kind of famous for laughing at her own jokes. You pretty much had to get used to it.

  She pulled three crisp dollar bills out of her wallet and held them up in the air for us to see.

  “So, what do you girls say?” she said. “Is it a deal?”

  Ximena looked at both of us. “I know I’m never going to be late,” she said to us.

  “I’m not going to be late, either!” said Summer.

  I shrugged, still unable to look Ximena in the eyes. “Me, neither,” I said.

  “Then it’s a deal!” said Mrs. Atanabi, walking over to us.

  “For you, mademoiselle,” she said to Ximena, handing her a spanking-new dollar bill.

  “Merci!” said Ximena, shooting us a quick smile, which I pretended not to see.

  Then Mrs. Atanabi walked over to me and Summer.

  “For you, and for you,” she said, handing us each a dollar bill.

  “God bless America,” we both answered at the same time.

  Wait. What?

  We looked at each other, our mouths and eyes open wide. Suddenly everything that occurred in the last half hour seemed to lose any importance—if what I think just happened did just happen.

  “The accordion-man?” I whispered excitedly.

  Summer gasped and nodded happily. “The accordion-man!”

  How We Went to Narnia

  It’s funny how you can know someone your whole life, but not really know them at all. Here, this whole time, I’ve been living in a parallel world to Summer Dawson, a nice girl I’ve known since kindergarten who I’ve always thought looked like the Lavender Fairy. But we’d never actually become friend friends! Not for any particular reason. It just worked out that way. The same way that Ellie and I were destined to be friends because Ms. Diamond had sat us next to each other on the first day of school, Summer and I were destined not to get to know each other because we were never in the same classes. Except for PE and swim, and assembly and concerts and stuff like that, our paths never crossed in lower school. Our moms weren’t really friends, so we never had playdates. Sure, I invited her to my Flower Fairy birthday party once. But it really was because Ellie and I thought she looked like the Lavender Fairy! And sure, we’d hang out a bit at other people’s bowling parties and at sleepovers and stuff. We were Facebook friends. We had lots of people in common. We were totally friendly.

  But we were never actually friends.

  So, when she said “God bless America,” it almost felt like I was meeting her for the first time in my life. Imagine finding out that there was someone else in the world who knew a secret that only you knew! It was like an invisible bridge had instantly been built connecting us. Or, like we had stumbled onto a tiny door in the back of a wardrobe and an accordion-playing faun had welc
omed us to Narnia.

  How I Received My Second Surprise of the Day

  Before Summer and I could say anything else on the subject of the accordion-man, Mrs. Atanabi brushed her hands together and said it was time to “get to work.” We spent the rest of the rehearsal time, since there was only half an hour left, listening to Mrs. Atanabi give us a quick overview of the dance while also periodically checking the weather app on her phone. We didn’t really do any actual dancing: just some basic steps and a little rough blocking.

  “We’ll start getting into it next time!” Mrs. Atanabi assured us. “I promise I won’t be late! See you Friday! Stay warm! Be careful going home!”

  “Bye, Mrs. Atanabi!”


  As soon as she was gone, Summer and I came together like magnets, talking excitedly at the same time.

  “I can’t believe you know who I’m talking about,” I said.

  “God bless America!” she answered.

  “Do you have any idea what happened to him?”

  “No! I asked around and everything.”

  “I did, too! No one knows what happened to him.”

  “It’s like he just vanished off the face of the earth!”

  “It’s like who vanished off the face of the earth?” asked Ximena, looking at us curiously. I guess the way we were squealing and carrying on, it did seem like something major had just happened.

  I was still kind of keeping my distance from her because of before, so I let Summer answer.

  “This guy who used to play the accordion on Main Street,” said Summer. “In front of the A&P on Moore? He was always there with his guide dog? I’m sure you must have noticed him. Whenever you’d drop money into his accordion case, he’d say, ‘God bless America.’ ”

  “God bless America,” I chimed in at the exact same time.

  “Anyway,” she continued, “he’s been there for forever, but a couple of months ago, he just wasn’t there anymore.”

  “And no one knows what happened to him!” I added. “It’s like this mystery.”

  “Wait, so this is a homeless person you’re talking about?” asked Ximena, kind of making the same eww face Savanna makes sometimes.

  “I don’t know if Gordy’s homeless, actually,” Summer answered.

  “You know his name?” I asked, completely surprised.

  “Yeah,” she answered matter-of-factly. “Gordy Johnson.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “I don’t know. My dad used to talk to him,” she answered, shrugging. “He was a veteran, and my dad was a marine, and was always like, That gentleman’s a hero, Summer. He served his country. We used to bring him coffee and a bagel on the way to school sometimes. My mom gave him my dad’s old parka.”

  “Wait, was it an orange Canada Goose parka?” I said, pointing at her.

  “Yes!” Summer answered happily.

  “I remember that parka!” I screamed, grabbing her hands.

  “OMG, you guys are totally geeking out,” Ximena laughed. “All this over a homeless guy in an orange parka?”

  Summer and I looked at each other.

  “It’s hard to explain,” said Summer. But I could tell she felt it, too: our connection over this. Our bond. It was our version of the Big Bang.

  “Oh my God, Summer!” I said, grabbing her arm. “Maybe we could track him down! We could find out where he is and make sure he’s okay! If you know his name, we should be able to do that!”

  “You think we could?” asked Summer, her eyes doing that little dancing thing they did when she was super-happy. “I would love that!”

  “Wait, wait, wait,” said Ximena, shaking her head. “Are you guys serious? You want to track down some homeless dude you barely know?” She acted like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

  “Yes,” we both said, looking at each other happily.

  “Who barely knows you?”

  “He’ll know me!” Summer said confidently. “Especially if I tell him I’m Sergeant Dawson’s daughter.”

  “Will he know you, Charlotte?” Ximena asked me, her eyes narrowing doubtfully.

  “Of course not!” I answered her quickly, just wanting her to stop talking. “He’s blind, stupid!”

  The moment I said it, everything got quiet. Even the radiator, which had been making all these loud banging noises in the performance space until then, suddenly fell silent. As if the performance space wanted to hear my words echo in the air.

  He’s blind, stupid. He’s blind, stupid. He’s blind, stupid.

  Another vomit of words. It’s almost like I was trying to get Ximena Chin to hate me!

  I waited for her to hit me with a sarcastic comeback, something that would slap me like an invisible hand across the face.

  But, instead, to my utter and complete amazement, she started to laugh.

  Summer started to laugh, too. “He’s blind, stupid!” she said, imitating the way I had said it exactly.

  “He’s blind, stupid!” Ximena repeated.

  They both started cracking up. I think the horrified look on my face made it even funnier for them. Every time they looked at me, they laughed harder.

  “I’m so sorry I said that, Ximena,” I whispered quickly.

  Ximena shook her head, wiping her eyes with the palm of her hand.

  “It’s fine,” she answered, catching her breath. “I kind of had that coming.”

  There wasn’t a trace of snarkiness to her right now. She was smiling.

  “Look, I didn’t mean to insult you earlier,” she said. “What I said about Auggie. I know you’re not only nice to him in front of teachers. I’m sorry I said that.”

  I couldn’t believe she was apologizing.

  “No, it’s fine,” I answered, fumbling.

  “Really?” she asked. “I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

  “I’m not!”

  “I can be a total jerk sometimes,” she said regretfully. “But I really want us to be friends.”


  “Awww,” said Summer, stretching her arms out to us. “Come on, guys. Group hug.”

  She wrapped her fairy wings around us, and for a few seconds, we came together in an awkward embrace that lasted a second too long and ended in more giggles. This time, I was laughing, too.

  That turned out to be the biggest surprise of the day. Not finding out that people have noticed me. Not finding out that Summer knew the accordion-man’s name.

  But realizing that Ximena Chin, under her layers and layers and layers of snarkiness and mischief, could actually be kind of sweet. When she wasn’t being kind of mean.

  How We Got to Know Each Other Better

  The next few weeks flew by! A crazy blur of snowstorms, and dance rehearsals, and science fair projects, and studying for tests, and trying to solve the mystery of what had happened to Gordy Johnson (more on that later).

  Mrs. Atanabi turned out to be quite the little drill sergeant! Lovable, in her own cute, waddly way, but really pushy. Like, we could never practice enough for her. Drills, drills, drills. En pointe! Shimmy! Hip roll! Classical ballet! Modern dance! A little bit of jazz! No tap! Downbeat! Half toe! Everything done her way, because she had a lot of very specific dance quirks. Things she obsessed about. The dances themselves weren’t hard. The twist. The monkey. The Watusi. The pony. The hitchhike. The swim. The hucklebuck. The shingaling. But it was doing them exactly the way she wanted us to do them that was hard. Doing them as part of a larger choreographed piece. And doing them in sync. That’s what we spent most of our time working on. The way we carried our arms. The way we snapped our fingers. Our turnouts. Our jumps. We had to work hard on learning how to dance alike—not just together!

  The dance we spent the most time working on was the shingaling. It was the centerpiece of Mrs. Atanabi’s whole dance number, what she used to transition from one dance style to the next. But there were so many variations to it—the Latin one, the R&B one, the funk shingaling—it was har
d not to mix them up. And Mrs. Atanabi was so particular about the way each one was danced! Funny how she could be so loosey-goosey about some things—like never once getting to a rehearsal on time!—and yet be so strict about other things—like, God forbid you do a diagonal chassé instead of a sideways chassé! Uh-oh, careful, the world as you know it might end!

  I’m not saying that Mrs. Atanabi wasn’t nice, by the way. I want to be fair. She was super-nice. Reassuring us if we were having trouble with a new routine: “Small steps, girls! Everything starts with small steps!” Surprising us with brownies after a particularly intense workout. Driving us home when she kept us rehearsing too late. Telling us funny stories about other teachers. Personal stories about her own life. How she’d grown up in the Barrio. How some of her friends had gone down a “wrong” path. How watching American Bandstand had saved her life. How she’d met her husband, who was also a dancer, while performing with Cirque du Soleil in Quebec. “We fell in love doing arabesques on a tightrope thirty feet in the air.”

  But it was intense. When I would go to sleep at night, I had so much information bouncing around my head! Bits of music. Things to memorize. Math equations. To-do lists. Mrs. Atanabi saying in her smooth East Harlem accent: “It’s the shingaling, baby!” There were times when I would just put my headset on to drown out the chatter in my brain.

  I was having so much fun, though, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Because the best part about all the crazy rehearsing and Mrs. Atanabi’s drills and everything else—and I don’t want to sound corny—was that Ximena, Summer, and I were really starting to get to know each other. Okay, that does sound corny. But it’s true! Look, I’m not saying we became best friends or anything. Summer still hung out with Auggie. Ximena still hung out with Savanna. I still played dots with Maya. But we were becoming friends. Like, friend friends.

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