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Shingaling a wonder stor.., p.6
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       Shingaling: A Wonder Story, p.6

           R. J. Palacio
 
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  “Sure, thanks,” said Ximena, taking our coats. “I can’t believe it’s snowing again.”

  I dropped my sleeping bag next to Summer’s and pulled off my UGGs. A woman I’d never seen before came in from the living room.

  “This is Luisa,” said Ximena. “This is Summer, and that’s Charlotte. Luisa’s my babysitter.”

  “Hi,” we both said.

  Luisa smiled at us. “So nice meet you!” she said in halting English. And then said something in rapid-fire Spanish to Ximena, who answered by nodding and saying gracias.

  “You speak Spanish?” I said, astonished. We were following Ximena over to the kitchen counter.

  Ximena laughed. “You didn’t know? Ximena’s such a Spanish name. You want something to drink?”

  “I thought it was Chinese!” I answered truthfully. “Water’s great.”

  “Me, too,” said Summer.

  “My dad’s Chinese,” she explained, filling two glasses full of water from the refrigerator door. “My mom’s Spanish. From Madrid. That’s where I was born.”

  “Really?” I said. “That’s so cool.”

  She set the cups of water in front of us while Luisa brought over a tray full of snacks.

  “¡Muchas gracias!” Summer said to Luisa.

  “Muchas gracias,” I repeated, in my terrible American accent.

  “You guys are so cute,” said Ximena, dipping a carrot stick into a little tub of hummus.

  “So, did you grow up in Madrid?” I asked. Besides dancing, and horses, and Les Mis, the thing I love most in the world is traveling. Not that I had ever done any traveling—yet. So far we’d only gone to the Bahamas once, Florida, and Montreal—but my parents are always talking about taking us to Europe someday. And I plan on becoming a professional traveler after I’m done being a Broadway star.

  “No, I didn’t grow up there,” answered Ximena. “I mean, I spend summers there—except for last summer, when I did the ballet intensive here in the city. But I didn’t grow up there. My parents both work for the UN, so I kind of grew up all over the place.” She took a bite of the carrot stick. Crunch. “Rome for two years. Then before that we lived in Brussels. We lived in Dubai for a year when I was about four, but I don’t remember that at all.”

  “Wow,” said Summer.

  “That’s so cool,” I said.

  Ximena tapped on the glass she was drinking from with her carrot stick. “It’s okay,” she said. “But it can be kind of hard, too. Moving around. I’m always the new kid in school.”

  “Oh yeah,” Summer said sympathetically.

  “I survived,” Ximena answered sarcastically. “I’m not about to complain.” She took another bite of her carrot stick.

  “So, do you know other languages?” I asked.

  She held up three and a half fingers as an answer, since her mouth was full. And then, after she swallowed, she elaborated: “English, because I always went to American schools. Spanish. Italian. And a little bit of Mandarin from my grandmother.”

  “That’s so cool!” I answered.

  “You keep saying that’s so cool,” Ximena pointed out.

  “That’s so uncool,” I answered, which made her laugh.

  Luisa came over to Ximena and asked her something.

  “Luisa wants to know what you guys would like for dinner,” Ximena translated.

  Summer and I looked at each other.

  “Oh, anything is fine,” Summer said very politely to Luisa. “Please don’t go to any trouble.”

  Luisa raised her eyebrows and smiled as Ximena translated. Then she reached over and pinched Summer’s cheek affectionately.

  “¡Qué muchachita hermosa!” she said. And then she looked at me. “Y ésta se parece a una muñequita.”

  Ximena laughed. “She says you’re very pretty, Summer. And, Charlotte, you look like a little doll.”

  I looked at Luisa, who was smiling and nodding.

  “Aww!” I said. “That’s so nice!”

  Then she walked away to start dinner for us.

  “My parents will be home about 8 p.m.,” Ximena said, waving for us to follow her.

  She showed us the rest of the apartment, which looked like something out of a magazine. Everything was white. The sofa. The rug. There was even a white Ping-Pong table in the living room! It made me a little nervous about being klutzy—which I have been known to be—and accidentally spilling something.

  We made our way down the hall to Ximena’s room, which was probably the biggest bedroom I’ve ever seen (that wasn’t a master bedroom). My bedroom, which I shared with Beatrix, was probably one quarter the size of Ximena’s bedroom.

  Summer walked into the middle of the room and made a slow spin as she took it all in. “Okay, this room is actually as big as my entire living room and kitchen combined,” she said.

  “Oh wow,” I said, walking over to the floor-to-ceiling windows. “You can see the Empire State Building from here!”

  “This is, like, the most beautiful apartment I’ve ever seen!” said Summer, sitting down in Ximena’s desk chair.

  “Thanks,” Ximena said, nodding and looking around. She seemed a little embarrassed. “Yeah, I mean, we’ve only been here since this summer so it doesn’t quite feel like home to me yet, but…” She plopped down on the bed.

  Summer pulled the rolling chair up to the giant bulletin board in back of Ximena’s desk, which was completely covered with tiny photos and pictures and quotes and sayings.

  “Oh look, a Mr. Browne precept!” she said, pointing to a cutout of Mr. Browne’s September precept.

  “He’s, like, my favorite teacher ever,” answered Ximena.

  “Mine, too!” I said.

  “What a cute picture of you and Savanna,” Summer said.

  I went over to see what she was pointing at. In between the dozens of little pictures of people from Ximena’s life, most of whom we didn’t recognize, were camera booth–type photos of Ximena and Savanna—plus Ximena and Miles, Savanna and Henry, and Ellie and Amos. When I saw Ellie’s picture up there, I have to admit, it was kind of strange for me. Like I saw her in a different light. She really did have this whole new life.

  “I have to get a picture of you two for my wall,” Ximena said.

  “Oh, come on,” said Summer, in her cute, disapproving fairy way as she pointed to a picture on the board. “Ximena!”

  It took me a second to realize she hadn’t said “oh, come on” in response to what Ximena had just said.

  “Oh, sorry,” said Ximena, making a guilty face.

  At first I didn’t know what the problem was, since it was just our homeroom class picture. Then I realized that over Auggie’s face was a tiny yellow Post-it with a drawing of a sad face.

  Ximena pulled the Post-it off the picture. “It was just Savanna and those guys fooling around,” she said apologetically.

  “That’s almost as bad as Julian’s mom Photoshopping the picture,” Summer said.

  “It was from a long time ago. I forgot it was even there,” said Ximena. I was so used to the dimple in her left cheek by now that I never confused when she was serious with when she was joking anymore. I would say her expression right now was definitely remorseful. “Look, the truth is, I think Auggie’s amazing.”

  “But you never talk to him,” said Summer.

  “Just because I’m not comfortable around him doesn’t mean I’m not amazed by him,” explained Ximena.

  At that moment, we heard a knock on the open door. Luisa was holding a little boy in her arms, who had obviously just woken up from a nap. He was probably about three or four years old and looked exactly like Ximena, except for the fact that it was very obvious he had Down syndrome.

  “¡Hola, Eduardito!” said Ximena, beaming. She held her arms out to her little brother, who Luisa deposited into her arms. “These are my friends. Mis amigas. This is Charlotte, and that’s Summer. Say hi. Di hola.” She took Eduardito’s hand and waved it at us, and we waved back. Eduardito, w
ho had still not completely woken up, looked at us sleepily while Ximena planted kisses all over his face.

  How We Played Truth or Dare

  “The day I found out my dad died,” Summer said.

  The three of us were lying in our sleeping bags on the floor in Ximena’s bedroom. The ceiling lights had been turned off, but the red chili Christmas lights that were strung all around the room gave the walls a pink glow in the dark. Our pajamas glowed pink. Our faces glowed pink. It was the perfect lighting for telling secrets and talking about things you would never talk about in the daylight. We were playing a Truth or Dare game, and the Truth card that Summer had drawn read: What was the worst day of your life?

  My first instinct had been to put the card back and tell her to draw another one. But she didn’t seem to mind answering it.

  “I was in Mrs. Bob’s class when my mom and grandma came to get me,” she continued quietly. “I thought they were taking me to the dentist, since I’d lost a tooth that morning. But the second we got inside our car, my grandma started to cry. And then Mom told me that they’d just found out that Dad had been killed in action. Daddy’s in heaven now, she said. And then we just all cried and cried in the car. Like, these huge, unstoppable tears.” She was fidgeting with the zipper of her sleeping bag as she talked, not looking at us. “Anyway, that was the worst day.”

  Ximena shook her head. “I can’t even imagine what that must be like,” she said quietly.

  “Me, neither,” I said.

  “It’s kind of a blur now, actually,” answered Summer, still pulling at the zipper. “Like, I honestly don’t remember his funeral. At all. The only thing I remember about that day is this picture book about dinosaurs that I was reading. There was this one illustration of a meteor streaking across the sky over the heads of the triceratops. And I remember thinking my dad’s death was like that. It’s like the extinction of the dinosaurs. A meteor hits your heart and changes everything forever. But you’re still here. You go on.”

  She finally got the zipper to unstick and pulled it up all the way to close her sleeping bag.

  “But, anyway…,” she said.

  “I remember your dad,” I said.

  “Yeah?” she said, smiling.

  “He was tall,” I answered. “And he had a really deep voice.”

  Summer nodded happily.

  “My mom told me all the moms thought he was so handsome,” I said.

  Summer opened her eyes wide. “Aww,” she said.

  We were quiet again for a few seconds. Summer started straightening up the card decks.

  “Okay, so whose turn is it now?” she asked.

  “I think it’s mine,” I answered, flicking the spinner.

  It landed on Truth, so I pulled a card from the Truth deck.

  “Oh, this one’s so lame,” I said, reading aloud. “ ‘What superpower would you like to have and why?’ ”

  “That’s fun,” said Summer.

  “I’d want to fly, of course,” I answered. “I could go anywhere I want. Zoom around the world. Go to all those places Ximena’s lived in.”

  “Oh, I think I’d want to be invisible,” said Ximena.

  “I wouldn’t,” I answered. “Why? So I could hear what everyone says about me behind my back? And know that everyone thinks I’m such a phony?”

  “Oh no!” laughed Ximena. “Not this again.”

  “I’m teasing, you know.”

  “I know!” she said. “But for the record, no one thinks you’re a phony.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Just a faker.”

  “Ha!”

  “But you do care too much about what people think of you,” she said, somewhat seriously.

  “I know,” I answered, just as seriously.

  “Okay, it’s your turn, Ximena,” said Summer.

  Ximena flicked the spinner. It pointed to Truth. She picked up a card, read it to herself, then groaned.

  “ ‘If you could go out with any boy in your school, who would it be?’ ” she read aloud. She covered her face with her hand.

  “What?” I said. “Wouldn’t it be Miles?”

  Ximena started laughing and shook her head, embarrassed.

  “Whoa!!!” Summer and I both said, pointing at her. “Who? Who? Who?”

  Ximena was laughing. It was hard to see in the dim light, but I’m pretty sure she was blushing.

  “If I tell you, you have to tell me your secret crushes!” she said.

  “Not fair, not fair,” I answered.

  “Yes, fair!” she said.

  “Fine!”

  “Amos,” she said, sighing.

  “No way!” said Summer, her mouth open wide. “Does Ellie know?”

  “Of course not,” said Ximena. “It’s just a crush. I wouldn’t do anything about it. Besides, he’s not into me at all. He really likes Ellie.”

  I thought about that. How just a few months ago, Ellie and I would talk about Jack. Having a “boyfriend” seemed like such a far-off thing back then.

  Ximena looked at me. “I think I know who Charlotte’s crush is,” she said in a singsongy way.

  I covered my face. “Everybody knows, thanks to Ellie,” I said.

  “What about you, Summer?” said Ximena, poking Summer’s hand.

  “Yeah, Summer, what about you?” I asked.

  Summer was smiling, but she shook her head no.

  “Come on!” said Ximena, pulling Summer’s pinky. “There’s got to be someone.”

  “Fine,” she said. She hesitated. “Reid.”

  “Reid?” said Ximena. “Who’s Reid?”

  “He’s in Mr. Browne’s class with us!” I answered. “Very quiet? Draws sharks.”

  “He’s not exactly popular,” Summer said. “But he’s really nice. And I think he’s very cute.”

  “Ohhh!” said Ximena. “Of course I know who Reid is, duh. He’s totally cute!”

  “He is, right?” said Summer.

  “You’d make a great couple,” said Ximena.

  “Maybe someday,” answered Summer. “I don’t want to be a couple yet.”

  “Is that why you didn’t want to go out with Julian?” asked Ximena.

  “I didn’t want to go out with Julian because Julian’s a jerk,” Summer answered quickly.

  “But you weren’t really sick on Halloween, right?” said Ximena. “At Savanna’s party?”

  Summer shook her head. “I wasn’t sick.”

  Ximena nodded. “I thought so.”

  “Okay, I have a question,” I said to Ximena. “But it’s not from the cards.”

  “Oh!” said Ximena, raising her eyebrows and smiling. “Okay.”

  I hesitated. “Okay. When you say you’re ‘going out’ with Miles, what does that really mean? Like, what do you do?”

  “Charlotte!” said Summer, smacking my arm with the back of her hand.

  Ximena started laughing.

  “No, I just mean…,” I said.

  “I know what you mean!” said Ximena, grabbing my fingers. “All it means is that Miles meets me at my locker after school every day. And he walks me to the bus stop sometimes. We hold hands.”

  “Have you ever kissed him?” I asked.

  Ximena made a face, like she was sucking on a lemon. She wasn’t wearing her contacts now. Just big tortoise-framed glasses, as well as a retainer she was supposed to wear at night. She didn’t look at all like the Ximena Chin we were used to seeing in school. “Just once. At the Halloween party.”

  “Did you like it?” I asked.

  “I don’t know!” she answered, smiling. “It was a little like kissing your arm. Have you done that? Kiss your arms.”

  Summer and I obediently kissed our arms. And then we all started giggling.

  “Oh, Jack!” I said, making slurpy noises while I kissed myself up and down my wrist.

  “Oh, Reid!” said Summer, doing the same thing.

  “Oh, Miles!” said Ximena, kissing her wrist. “I mean, Amos!”


  We were cracking up.

  “Mija,” Ximena’s mom said, knocking on the door. She poked her head in. “I don’t want the baby to wake up. Can you keep it down a little?”

  “Sorry, mami,” said Ximena.

  “Good night, girls,” she said sweetly.

  “Good night!” we whispered. “Sorry!”

  “Should we go to sleep now?” I said softly.

  “No, let’s just be much quieter,” said Ximena. “Come on, I think it’s your turn now, Summer. Truth or Dare.”

  “I have another question that’s not on the card, too,” said Summer, pointing to Ximena. “For you.”

  “Uh-oh, you guys are ganging up on me!” laughed Ximena.

  “We haven’t done any Dares yet,” I pointed out.

  “Okay, this is the Dare,” said Summer. “You have to sit at my lunch table on Monday, and you can’t tell anyone why.”

  “Oh, come on!” said Ximena. “I can’t just ditch my table without saying why.”

  “Exactly!” answered Summer. “So choose Truth.”

  “Fine,” said Ximena. “So what’s the Truth?”

  Summer looked at her. “Okay, Truth. If Savanna, Ellie, and Gretchen hadn’t gone skiing this weekend, would you still have asked Charlotte and me to a sleepover tonight?”

  Ximena rolled her eyes. “Ohhh!” She puffed her cheeks out like a fish.

  “You look like Mrs. Atanabi now,” I pointed out.

  “Come on, Truth or Dare,” Summer pressured her.

  “Okay, fine,” Ximena said finally, hiding her face behind her hands. “It’s true! I probably wouldn’t have. Sorry.” She peeked out at us from between her fingers. “I was supposed to go skiing with them this weekend, but then I didn’t think it was worth my possibly twisting an ankle or something right before the dance, so I canceled at the last minute, and then I invited you guys over.”

  “Aha!” said Summer, poking Ximena in the shoulder. “I knew it. We were your plan B for this weekend.”

  I started poking her, too.

  “I’m sorry!” said Ximena, laughing because we had started tickling her. “But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to hang out with you guys, too!”

  “Have you had any other sleepovers in the last month?” Summer asked.

  We were tickling her a lot at this point.

 
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