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Shingaling a wonder stor.., p.9
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       Shingaling: A Wonder Story, p.9

           R. J. Palacio
 
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  Bring it on!

  By the time coffee was being served, all the speeches were over, and people had started walking around and mingling. I saw one couple come over to our table, but I couldn’t remember who they were until Summer jumped out of her seat to hug them. Then I knew. Auggie’s parents. They kissed Summer’s mom and then circled around to me and Ximena.

  “You guys were so amazing,” Auggie’s mom said sweetly.

  “Thank you so much,” I answered, smiling.

  “You must be so proud of them,” Auggie’s dad said to Mrs. Atanabi, who was next to Summer.

  “I am!” Mrs. Atanabi said, beaming. “They worked so hard.”

  “Congrats again, girls,” said Auggie’s mom, giving my shoulder a little squeeze before making her way back to Summer’s mom.

  “Say hi to Auggie for me,” I called out.

  “We will.”

  “Wait, those were Auggie’s parents?” Ximena. “They look like movie stars.”

  “I know,” I whispered back.

  “What are you guys whispering about?” said Summer, coming between us.

  “She didn’t know they were Auggie’s parents,” I explained.

  “Oh,” said Summer. “His parents are so nice.”

  “It’s really ironic,” said Ximena. “They’re so good-looking.”

  “Have you ever seen Auggie’s big sister?” I said. “She’s super-pretty. Like she could be a model. It’s crazy.”

  “Wow,” said Ximena. “I guess I thought, I don’t know, that they’d all kind of look like Auggie.”

  “No,” Summer said gently. “It’s like with your brother. It’s just how he was born.”

  Ximena nodded slowly.

  I could tell, smart as she was, she’d never thought of it like that before.

  How I Fell Asleep—Finally!

  We didn’t get home until pretty late that night. I was super-tired as I washed all the makeup off my face and got ready for bed. But then, I don’t know why, I couldn’t fall asleep. All the night’s events kept crashing over me like soft waves. I felt the way you feel like when you’re on a boat, rocking back and forth. My bed was floating in an ocean.

  After about half an hour of tossing and turning, I picked my phone up from where it was charging on my nightstand.

  Anyone up,

  I texted Summer and Ximena.

  It was after midnight. I was sure they were asleep.

  Just wanted u guys to know that I thnk ur the two most amazing people in the world and Im glad we got to b such good friends for a while. Ill always remembr this night. Its the shingaling, baby!

  I put the phone back on the nightstand and karate-chopped my pillow to make it comfy. I closed my eyes, hoping sleep would come. Just as I felt myself finally drifting off, my phone buzzed.

  It wasn’t Ximena or Summer. Weirdly enough, it was Ellie.

  Hey, Charly, Im sure ur sleeping but my parents just came home from the gala and said you guys were absolutely unbelievably incredible. Proud of you. Wish I coulda been there to see you dance. You deserve it. Lets try to hang out after school next week. Miss u.

  It sounds stupid, but her text made me so happy, tears instantly welled up in my eyes.

  Thnx so much, Ellie! I texted back.

  Wish u could’ve been there too. Would love to hang next week. MissU2. G’night.

  How Maya Was Surprised and Surprised Us All

  I woke up feeling so exhausted the next morning, Mom let me go to school late. I saw that both Ximena and Summer had texted me first thing in the morning.

  Ximena Chin

  I feel the same way, Charlotte. What a night!

  Summer Dawson

  I <3 U 2!

  I didn’t text them back because I knew they were in class. I missed the first three periods, and didn’t see either of them until lunch. Summer, as usual, was sitting with Auggie and Jack. And Ximena, as usual, was at the Savanna table. For a fraction of a second, I was going to go over and say hello to Ximena, but the image of Maya standing in front of that same group of kids yesterday was still fresh in my head—and I didn’t want to give Ximena even the sliver of a chance of disappointing me with anything but a really friendly hello.

  So I waved to her and Summer as I walked over to my usual table, and sat down next to Maya. The girls at my table asked me how last night had gone—some of them had heard about it from their parents—but I spared them too many details because I knew they’d lose interest after thirty seconds. Which is exactly what happened.

  Not that I could blame them, really.

  The main thing on their minds—in fact, the only thing they wanted to talk about—was the note that Maya had given to Ellie yesterday in Carvel. That note, it turned out—which by now had been quoted or read aloud by half the grade—was Maya’s first ticket to a kind of popularity she’d never experienced before. People were talking about her. Kids were pointing her out to curious sixth graders who had also heard about the note.

  “I’m the queen of the underdogs today!” Maya herself said.

  I could tell she felt triumphant. She liked the attention she was getting.

  I had intended to tell her how hurt Ximena had been by her note, how it had made her cry. But, in a strange way, I also didn’t want to rain on Maya’s parade.

  “Hey, you!” said Summer, nudging me so I could scoot over.

  “Hey!” I said, surprised to see her there. I looked over at her table, but Auggie and Jack had already left.

  “Hi, Summer,” said Maya eagerly. “Did you hear about my note?”

  Summer smiled. “Yes, I did!” she answered.

  “Did you like it?” Maya asked.

  I could tell Summer didn’t want to hurt Maya’s feelings, either, so she hesitated in answering.

  “Where are Auggie and Jack?” I interjected.

  “Working on some top-secret notes to leave in Julian’s locker,” she answered.

  “A note like mine?” said Maya.

  Summer shook her head. “I don’t think so. Love notes from someone named Beulah.”

  “Who’s Beulah?” I said.

  Summer laughed. “It’s too hard to explain.”

  I noticed that Ximena was looking at us from all the way across the cafeteria. I smiled at her. She smiled back. Then, to my surprise, she got up and walked over to our table.

  Everybody at the table stopped talking as soon as they saw her standing there. Without even being asked, Megan and Rand scooted apart and Ximena sat down between them, directly opposite Maya, me, and Summer.

  Maya was completely shocked. Her eyes were open wide, and she almost looked a little scared. I had no idea what would happen next.

  Ximena clasped her hands in front of her, leaned forward, and looked straight at Maya.

  “Maya,” she said, “I just want to apologize if I’ve ever said or done anything to insult you. I never meant to, if that’s the case. I actually think you’re a really nice person and super-smart and interesting, and I really hope that we can be friends from now on.”

  Maya blinked, but she didn’t say anything. Her mouth was literally hanging open.

  “Anyway,” said Ximena, now seeming a little shy, “I just wanted to tell you that.”

  “That’s so nice of you, Ximena,” said Summer, smiling.

  Ximena looked at us with that winking expression of hers.

  “It’s the shingaling, baby!” she said, which made us both smile.

  Then, as quickly as she’d sat down with us, she got up and walked back to her table. I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw Ellie and Savanna watching her. As soon as she sat down at her table, they came in close to hear what she had to say.

  “That was so nice of her, wasn’t it?” Summer said to Maya.

  “I’m shocked,” answered Maya, taking her glasses off to wipe them. “Totally shocked.”

  Summer gave me a little knowing look.

  “Maya, whatever happened to that giant game of dots you were worki
ng on?” I said.

  “Oh, I have it here!” she answered eagerly. “I told you I was waiting until you’re around to play it. Why? You want to play it now?”

  “Yeah!” I answered. “I do.”

  “Me, too,” said Summer.

  Maya gasped, grabbed her backpack, and pulled out a tube of paper that was folded in thirds and slightly bent at the top. We watched her unfold it and carefully unwind the sheet of paper, which took up the entire width and length of the lunch table. When it was completely stretched out, we all looked at it. Stunned.

  There wasn’t one square inch of the gigantic paper that wasn’t covered in dots. Perfectly drawn, evenly spaced lines of dots. But not just dots. Beautiful grid patterns connected by swirls. Waves of lines that ended in spirals, or flowers, or sunbursts. It almost looked like tattoo art, the way blue ink can cover someone’s arm so completely, you don’t know where one tattoo starts and another ends.

  It was the most unbelievably beautiful game of dots I’ve ever seen.

  “Maya, this is incredible,” I said slowly.

  “Yeah!” she said happily. “I know!”

  How Some Things Changed, and Some Things Didn’t

  That was the only time, and the last time, that Summer, Ximena, and I sat at a lunch table together. Or at any table, for that matter. We went back to our different groups. Ximena with Savanna. Summer and Auggie. Me and Maya.

  And that, honestly, was fine with me.

  Sure. Maybe there was part of me, the part that loves happy endings, that wished things had changed. Ximena and Ellie would suddenly switch tables and start sitting at my table, along with Summer. Maybe we’d start a new lunch table together, with Jack and Auggie, and Reid—and Amos!—at the table next to ours.

  But the truth is, I knew things wouldn’t change much. I knew it would be the way it had been after the sleepover. Like we had taken a secret trip together. A voyage that no one else knew about. And when we returned from our journey, we each went back to our own homes. Some friendships are like that. Maybe even the best friendships are like that. The connections are always there. They’re just invisible to the eye.

  Which is why Savanna would have no idea that Summer and I got to know her friend Ximena as well as we did. And why Maya wouldn’t understand the effect her note had on me and Summer. Or why Auggie didn’t know the first thing about any of this stuff that was going on. “He has his own stuff to worry about,” Summer had told me once, when she explained why she had never even told Auggie she’d gotten picked to be in Mrs. Atanabi’s dance. “He doesn’t need to know about all this girl drama.”

  That’s not to say there haven’t been some changes that have happened.

  As we entered our last few months of fifth grade, I definitely noticed that Ximena made more of an effort to branch out to other girls in our grade. And when she sees me in the hallway now, she always gives me a warm hello—regardless of whether she’s with Savanna. Also, even though Ellie and Maya never patched things up, Ellie and I have hung out after school a couple of times. Not that it’s like it used to be, of course. But it’s something, and I’ll take it.

  Small steps, as Mrs. Atanabi would say. It starts with small steps.

  And the truth is, even if Ximena, Savanna, and Ellie did suddenly invite me to sit at their table, I wouldn’t go now. It just wouldn’t seem right. First of all, I wouldn’t want to get an angry note from Maya or have her bare her teeth at me across a room But mostly, it’s because I realized something the day she unrolled her magnificent dot game across the lunch table: Maya’s been my friend through thick and thin. My friend friend. All these years. In her clumsy, loyal, slightly annoying way. She’s never judged me. She’s always accepted me. And that group of girls at my lunch table, the ones I have nothing in common with? Well, guess what? We have a lunch table in common! And a ridiculously beautiful game of dots that we play over lunch, with the different-colored markers Maya’s assigned to each and every one of us. Which we have to use or she gets really mad at us.

  But that’s just Maya. And that will never change.

  How I Talked to Mr. Tushman

  The last day of school, Mr. Tushman’s assistant, Mrs. Garcia, found me in seventh period and asked if I would come talk to Mr. Tushman right after school. Maya overheard her and started giggling.

  “Ooh, ooh, Charlotte’s in trouble,” she sang.

  We both knew that wasn’t the case, though, and that it probably had to do with the awards they were giving out tomorrow. Everyone assumed that I would win the Beecher medal because I had organized the coat drive, and the medal usually went to the student who did the most community service.

  I knocked on Mr. Tushman’s door right after the last-period bell.

  “Come in, Charlotte,” he said enthusiastically, signaling for me to sit at the chair in front of his desk.

  I always loved Mr. Tushman’s office. He had all these fun puzzles on the edge of his desk, and artwork from kids over the years framed and hanging on the walls. I noticed immediately that he had Auggie’s self-portrait as a duck displayed behind his desk.

  And then suddenly I knew what this meeting was about.

  “So, are you excited about tomorrow’s graduation ceremony?” he asked, crossing his hands in front of him on the desk.

  I nodded. “I can’t believe fifth grade is almost over!” I answered, unable to restrain my happiness.

  “It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” he said. “Do you have plans for summer?”

  “I’m going to dance camp.”

  “Oh, how fun!” he answered. “You three were so amazing at the benefit in March. Like professional dancers. Mrs. Atanabi was so impressed with how hard you worked, and how well you worked together.”

  “Yeah, it was so much fun,” I said excitedly.

  “That’s great,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad you’ve had a good year, Charlotte. You deserve it. You’ve been a joyful presence in these hallways, and I appreciate how you’ve always been nice to everyone. Don’t think things like that go unnoticed.”

  “Thank you, Mr. Tushman.”

  “The reason I wanted to have a little word with you before tomorrow,” he said, “and I’m hoping you can keep it between us, is that I know you know that among the many honors I give out tomorrow, one of them is the Beecher medal.”

  “You’re giving it to Auggie,” I blurted out. “Right?”

  He looked surprised. “Why do you say that?” he asked.

  “Everybody’s assuming I’m getting it.”

  He looked at me carefully. Then he smiled.

  “You are a very smart girl, Charlotte,” he said gently.

  “I’m fine with that, Mr. Tushman,” I said.

  “But I wanted to explain,” he insisted. “Because, the truth of the matter is, had this been like any other ordinary year, you would probably be getting that medal, Charlotte. You deserve it—not only because of all the hard work you did on the coat drive, but because, like I just said before, you’ve been a really nice person to everyone. I still remember how, right from the start when I asked you to be Auggie’s welcome buddy, you embraced that wholeheartedly and without equivocation.”

  Have I mentioned how much I love the fact that he uses big words and assumes we understand them?

  “But, as you know,” he said, “this year has been anything except ordinary. And when I was thinking about this award, thinking about what it represents, I realized that it can be about more than community service—not to devalue that at all.”

  “No, I know totally what you mean,” I agreed.

  “When I look at Auggie and all the challenges he has to face on a daily basis,” he said, patting his heart. “I’m in awe of how he manages to simply show up every day. With a smile on his face. And I want him to have validation that this year was a triumph for him. That he’s made an impact. I mean, the way the kids rallied around him after the horrible incident at the nature reserve? It was because of him. He inspired that kindness i
n them.”

  “I completely get what you mean,” I said.

  “And I want this award to be about kindness,” he continued. “The kindness we put out in the world.”

  “Totally,” I agreed.

  He seemed genuinely delighted by my attitude. And a little relieved, I think.

  “I’m so glad you understand, Charlotte!” he said. “I wanted to tell you beforehand, so you wouldn’t be disappointed during the ceremony tomorrow, since, as you say, everyone’s assuming you’re getting it. But you won’t tell anyone, right? I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for Auggie or his family.”

  “Can I tell my parents?”

  “Of course! Though I’m planning on giving them a call myself tonight to tell them just how proud I am of you at this very moment.”

  He got up and reached across the table to shake my hand, so I shook his hand.

  “Thank you, Charlotte,” he said.

  “Thank you, Mr. Tushman.”

  “See you tomorrow.”

  “Bye.” I started walking toward the door, but then this one thought popped into my head, like a fully formed idea. I had no clue where it came from.

  “But the award can go to two people, right?” I asked.

 
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