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Shingaling a wonder stor.., p.7
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       Shingaling: A Wonder Story, p.7

           R. J. Palacio
 
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“Yes!” she giggled. “I’m sorry! I didn’t invite you to those, either. I’m not good at mixing my friend groups! But I’ll get better next year, I promise.”

  “Do you even like Savanna?” I said, giving her one last poke.

  Ximena made a face that I realized was a perfect imitation of Savanna’s eww expression.

  Now Summer and I started laughing.

  “Shh!” said Ximena, patting the air to remind us to keep quiet.

  “Shh!” said Summer.

  “Shh!” I said.

  We all settled down.

  “Okay, I have to admit,” Ximena said quietly, “she’s been really annoying ever since I started spending time with you guys rehearsing. She was so mad when she wasn’t picked for the dance!”

  “Probably mad that I got picked instead of her,” said Summer.

  “Actually, no, she was mad at Charlotte,” Ximena answered, pointing her thumb at me.

  “I knew it!” I said.

  Ximena leaned her head on one shoulder. “She said…and this is her talking, not me…that you always get the good parts in shows at Beecher Prep because the teachers know you were in TV commercials when you were little. And that you try really hard to always be a teacher’s pet.”

  “What. The. Heck?” I said, stupefied. “That is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

  Ximena shrugged. “I’m just telling you what she told me and Ellie.”

  “But Ellie knows that’s not true,” I said.

  “Trust me,” answered Ximena. “Ellie never says anything to contradict Savanna.”

  “I don’t get why she’s always hated me,” I said, shaking my head.

  “Savanna doesn’t hate you,” Summer answered, reaching over to take Ximena’s glasses off of her face. “I think, if anything, she’s probably always been a little jealous of you and Ellie being best friends.”

  “Really?” I said. “Why?”

  Summer shrugged. She tried on Ximena’s glasses. “Well, you know, you and Ellie tended to be kind of cliquey. I think Savanna probably felt a little left out.”

  This had never, ever occurred to me.

  “I had no idea anyone felt that way,” I said. “I mean, seriously, no idea. Are you sure? Did other people feel this way? Did you?”

  Summer let the glasses fall to the tip of her nose. “Kind of. But I wasn’t in any of your classes, so I didn’t care. Savanna was in all your classes.”

  “Wow,” I said, biting the inside of my cheek, which is a nervous habit I have.

  “I wouldn’t worry about it, though,” said Summer, putting Ximena’s glasses on my face now. “It doesn’t matter anymore. You look really good in those.”

  “I don’t want Savanna to hate me, though!” I said.

  “Why do you care so much about what Savanna thinks?” asked Ximena.

  “Don’t you care what she thinks?” I asked. “Let’s face it, you’re different when you’re around her, too.”

  “That’s true,” said Summer, taking the glasses off my face. She started cleaning them with her pajama top.

  “You’re much nicer when you’re not with her,” I said.

  Ximena was twisting her hair with her finger. “Everyone’s a little mean in middle school, don’t you think?”

  “No!” said Summer, putting the glasses back on Ximena’s face.

  “Not even a little?” Ximena answered, raising her right eyebrow.

  “No,” Summer repeated, adjusting the glasses so they were straight. “No one has to be mean. Ever.” She leaned back to inspect the glasses.

  “Well, that’s what you think because you’re a saint,” teased Ximena.

  “Oh my gosh, if you call me that one more time!” laughed Summer, tossing her pillow at Ximena.

  “Summer Dawson, you did not just hit me with my favorite 800-fill-power European white goose-down pillow, did you?” said Ximena, standing up slowly. She picked up her own super-fluffy pillow and raised it in the air.

  “Is that a challenge?” Summer asked, standing and holding her pillow up like a shield.

  I stood up excitedly, holding my pillow in the air.

  “Pillow fight!” I said, a little too loudly because I was excited.

  “Shh!” Ximena said, holding her finger over her mouth to remind me to keep it down.

  “Silent pillow fight!” I whispered loudly.

  We spent one long second looking at one another, to see who would strike first, and then we just started going at it. Ximena brought her pillow down on Summer, Summer struck her from below, I made a long sideswipe at Ximena. Then Ximena came up and swung at me from the left, but Summer spun around and struck us both from above. Soon we were smacking each other with more than just pillows: the stuffed animals on Ximena’s bed, towels, our rolled-up clothes. And despite our trying to be completely silent, or maybe because of it—since there’s nothing funnier than trying not to laugh when you want to laugh—it was the single best pillow fight I’ve ever had in my entire life!

  The thing that stopped it, or else it might have gone on too long, was the mysterious trumpet blast of a fart that came from one of us. It stopped the three of us in our tracks as we looked at each other, eyes open wide, and started laughing hysterically when no one took credit for it.

  Anyway, two seconds later, Ximena’s mom knocked on the door again, still sounding patient but also obviously a little irritated. It was way past midnight.

  We promised her we would go to sleep now and we wouldn’t make any more noise.

  We were out of breath from laughing so hard. My stomach actually hurt a little.

  It took us a while to straighten out our sleeping bags and put the stuffed animals back where they belonged. We folded our clothes and returned the towels to the closet.

  We smoothed out our pillows and lay down in our sleeping bags and zipped them up, and then we said good night to one another. But I couldn’t fall asleep. Even though I was sleepy, the night swirled inside me. It was like my eyes were too heavy to keep open but way too curious to close. I got a case of the giggles, and then Summer and Ximena started giggling. We kept trying to shush one another by cupping our hands over each other’s mouths.

  Finally, once the giggles had passed and it got quiet again, Ximena started singing really softly in the dark. At first, I didn’t even realize what she was singing, she was singing so quietly.

  No-no, no, no-no, no-no-no-no.

  Then Summer took up the song:

  No, no-no, no, no, no-no, no-no, no-no.

  Finally, I realized what they were singing, and sang:

  No-no-no-no, no-no, no, no-no, no!

  Then we all started whisper-singing together.

  Nobody can do the shingaling

  Like I do…

  Nobody can do the skate

  Like I do…

  Nobody can do boogaloo

  Like I do…

  We were lying on our backs side by side as we sang, and made our arms and hands dance in sync above our heads. And we sang the whole song, from beginning to end, as quietly as if we were praying in church.

  How Our Venn Diagrams Look

  I know. I spend too much time thinking about this stuff.

  How We Never Talked About It

  On Monday, there was no mention of the sleepover. It’s like the three of us knew, instinctively, without having to say it out loud, that when we got back to school, everything would return to being business as usual. Ximena hanging out with the Savanna group. Summer hanging out with her tiny group. Me playing dots with Maya at my lunch table.

  No one would have ever guessed that Summer, Ximena, and I had become good friends. Or that just a few days before, we were having silent pillow fights and sharing secrets under the pink glow of the red chili lights in Ximena’s bedroom.

  How I Failed to Prevent a Social Catastrophe

  The night before the gala, Mrs. Atanabi told us to take the day off and get some rest. She wanted us to make sure we had a nice healthy dinner and a good
’s night sleep. Then she gave us our costumes, which she had somehow managed to sew herself. We had already tried them on the week before, but I was so excited to come home and try mine on again, now that it had been fitted. The costume was inspired by this photo of the Liberty Belles:

  So that afternoon, I went home from school with Maya and Lina, the way I used to in the old days before I started hanging out with Summer and Ximena all the time.

  It was one of the first nice days in March, when you finally get a hint of spring after the long, crazy cold winter. Lina had the brainstorm to stop at Carvel on our way home, which felt like a very “springtime” thing to do, so we walked in the opposite direction up Amesfort toward the park. As we were walking, I told them how I had heard that Savanna was telling people that the only reason I got a part in Mrs. Atanabi’s dance show was because I had been in a TV commercial when I was little.

  “No one believes that,” Lina said sympathetically, kicking her soccer ball in front of her.

  “That’s awful!” said Maya, and it kind of made me happy that she got so mad about it. “I can’t believe Savanna! She used to be so nice in lower school.”

  “Savanna was never really that nice to me,” I answered.

  “She was nice to me,” Maya insisted, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Now she’s evil. That whole group is evil.”

  I nodded. Then I shook my head. “Well, I don’t know about that.”

  “And now they’ve turned Ellie against us,” Maya said. “You know, Ellie barely even says hello to me anymore. Now she’s evil, too.”

  I scratched my nose. Maya had a way of being very black-and-white about things. “I guess.”

  “I’m telling you, it’s Ximena Chin’s fault,” Maya continued. “It’s only because of her. If she hadn’t started this year, everything would be the same as it was. She’s the bad influence.”

  I knew that that was how Maya saw things. It was one of the reasons I never went into too much detail about the dance show I was in. She never really got that it was just me, Summer, and the dreaded Ximena Chin. And that was fine by me! I didn’t want to have to defend my friendship with Ximena to Maya! I honestly don’t think she would have understood.

  “You know what I hate the most?” Maya said. “I hate that she’s probably going to end up giving the fifth-grade commencement speech at graduation this year.”

  “Well, she does have the best grades of anyone,” I answered, trying to sound as impartial as possible.

  “I thought you had the best grades, Charlotte,” Lina said to me.

  “No, Ximena does,” Maya interjected. She started counting off on her fingers. “Ximena. Charlotte. Simon. Me. And then either Auggie or Remo. Auggie’s actually got better grades than Remo in math, but he didn’t do that well in Spanish on his last few quizzes, and that’s bringing his whole grade point average down.”

  Maya always knew what everyone else got on their tests. She kept tabs on homework assignments, essay scores. You name it, if it had a grade attached to it, Maya would ask you about it. And she had an amazing way of remembering all those details, too.

  “It’s crazy how you can remember everybody’s grades,” said Lina.

  “It’s a gift,” answered Maya, not even meaning to be funny.

  “Hey, did you tell Charlotte about the note?” Lina asked her.

  “What note?” I said. Like I mentioned, I was a little out of the loop with these guys because I hadn’t hung around them that much these last few weeks.

  “Oh, nothing,” said Maya.

  “She wrote Ellie a note,” said Lina.

  Maya looked up at me and frowned. “Telling her how I feel,” she added, peering at me over the rims of her glasses.

  I immediately had a sinking feeling about this note.

  “What did you write?” I asked.

  She shrugged. “Just a note.”

  Lina nudged her. “Let her read it!”

  “She’s going to tell me not to give it to her!” Maya answered, biting the end of her long, curly hair.

  “At least show it to me?” I said, now really curious. “Come on, Maya!”

  We had stopped at the intersection of Amesfort and 222nd Street to wait for the light to change.

  “Fine,” Maya answered. “I’ll show you.” She started digging into her coat pocket and pulled out a well-worn Uglydoll envelope with the word “Ellie” written on the outside in silver marker. “Okay. So, basically, I just wanted to let Ellie know how I feel about the way she’s changed this year.”

  She passed the envelope to me, and then nodded for me to open it and read the note inside.

  Dear Ellie,

  I’m writing as one of your oldest friends to tell you that you’ve really been acting different lately, and I hope you snap out of it. I don’t blame you. I blame it on the evil Ximena Chin, who is negatively influencing you! First she twisted Savanna’s brain, and now she’s turning you into a pretty zombie just like she is. I hope you stop being friends with her and remember all the good times we used to have. Remember Mr. Browne’s November precept: “Have no friends not equal to yourself!” Can we please be friends again?

  Your former really good friend,

  Maya

  I folded the note up and put it back inside the envelope. She was looking at me expectantly.

  “Is it stupid?” she asked me.

  I handed the envelope back to her.

  “No, it’s not stupid,” I answered. “But as your friend, I’m telling you that I don’t think you should give it to her.”

  “I knew you would try to talk me out of it!” she said, annoyed and disappointed by my reaction.

  “No, I’m not trying to talk you out of it!” I said. “You should give it to her if you really want to. I know you mean well, Maya.”

  “I’m not trying to mean well,” she said angrily. “I’m just trying to be truthful!”

  “I know,” I said.

  By now we had crossed the street and arrived at Carvel, only to see how super-busy it was inside. The line at the counter went all the way to the door, and every single table was full—mostly with Beecher Prep kids.

  “Everyone had the same idea as we did,” said Lina regretfully.

  “It’s too crowded,” I said. “Let’s forget it.”

  Maya gripped my arm. “Look, there’s Ellie,” she said.

  I followed her gaze and saw Ellie sitting with Ximena, Savanna, and Gretchen—plus Miles, Henry, and Amos—at a table in front of the birthday cake counter, which was all the way on the other side of the shop.

  “Let’s just go,” I said, pulling Maya by the arm. Lina had already started kicking the ball down the block. But Maya stayed where she was.

  “I’m going to give her my note,” she said slowly, her expression very serious. She held the note I had just returned to her in her left hand, and now she waved it like a tiny flag.

  “Oh no, you’re not,” I said quickly, pushing her hand down. “Not now at least.”

  “Why not?”

  Lina came back toward us. “Wait, you want to give her the note now?” she said incredulously. “In front of everybody?”

  “Yes!” Maya answered stubbornly.

  “No,” I said, closing my hand over the note. All I could think of is what a big fool she would make of herself if she did that. Ellie would open the note in front of everyone at her table, and they would get so mad at Ellie for the things she said about Ximena and Savanna. Unforgivable things, really! But even worse, they would totally start laughing at her about this. “This is the kind of thing you would never live down, Maya,” I cautioned. “You will absolutely regret it. Don’t do this.”

  I could tell she was reconsidering. Her forehead was all scrunched up.

  “You could give it to her some other time,” I continued, tugging on her coat sleeve the way Summer sometimes tugged on mine when she was talking. “When she’s alone. You could even send it to her in the mail, if you want. But do not do it now in front
of everyone. I’m begging you. Believe me, Maya. That would be a social catastrophe.”

  I saw her rubbing her face. The thing with Maya is, she’s never cared about popularity or social catastrophes. She’s so good at keeping tabs on people’s test scores and grades, but she doesn’t have a clue how to read the social stuff. She gets the basics, of course—but in her black-and-white world, kids are either nice or evil. There’s no in-between.

  In some ways, that’s always been one of the nicest things about her. She’ll go up to anyone and just assume they’re friends. Or she’ll do something really nice for someone out of the blue, like giving Auggie Pullman an Uglydoll keychain, which she did just last week.

  But in some ways, it’s really bad because she has no defenses ready for when people aren’t nice to her. She has no good comebacks. She just takes it all seriously. What’s worse, though, is that she doesn’t always get when people don’t feel like talking to her. So she’ll just keep chattering on or asking questions until the person walks away. It was Ellie who actually put it kind of perfectly a few months ago when we were griping about how annoying Maya could be sometimes:

  “Maya makes it easy for people to be mean to her.”

  And now Maya was about to make it really easy for Ellie to be mean to her—in front of a whole bunch of ice-cream-eating kids! Because, despite my words, despite my basically begging her not to do this, Maya Markowitz walked into the store, wove her way in and out of the crowd of people waiting in line, and marched to the back table where Ellie and that whole group of mighty girls was sitting.

  Lina and I watched from the sidewalk outside the Carvel. There was a floor-to-ceiling window in the storefront, which was the perfect place to see events unfold. For a second, it felt like I was looking at one of those nature videos on PBS. I could almost hear a man with a British accent narrating the action.

  Observe what happens as the young gazelle, which has just strayed from its herd…

  I watched Maya say something to Ellie, and how everyone at that table stopped talking and looked up at Maya.

  …comes to the attention of the lions, who haven’t eaten in several days.

 
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