Authors: Catherine R. Daly
Catherine R. Daly
To Barbara and George for all their encouragement—
especially for the creative writing lessons at
Queens College, way back when.
With special thanks to Tim Hall for the totally perfect title.
And a debt of gratitude to James Albertelli of Gramercy
Park Flower Shop for sharing his wealth
of floral knowledge with me.
Last day of school.
Are there four sweeter words in the English language?
Not that I dislike school, don’t get me wrong. But after conquering seventh grade — four As and one A-minus, thank you very much — I was ready for two whole beautiful months with no homework, essays, or pop quizzes, that was for sure.
I gazed around the cafeteria, where I was sitting at my usual table, finishing up lunch with my friends. The lunchroom was louder than normal, buzzing with a slightly wacky last-day-of-school energy. A group of sixth-grade boys were tossing their milk cartons into a garbage can halfway across the room. Everyone laughed when Eddie Noonan missed and beaned Maria Gonzalez in the head.
She threw it back at him, nailing him right in the stomach. The room erupted into cheers.
“They’re going to get detention,” said my friend Amy Arthur worriedly, pushing her black, rectangular glasses higher up on the bridge of her nose. Back in fifth grade, a substitute teacher had unjustly accused Amy of passing notes. She’d received her one and only detention and now lived in fear of it — for anyone.
“There’s no such thing as detention on the last day of school,” our other friend Heather Hanson scoffed, tossing her dirty-blonde corkscrew curls over her shoulder. Heather may look like a china doll, but she is tough as nails. She pointed to a group of teachers, allegedly on lunchroom duty. They were chatting away, oblivious to the cafeteria Olympics. “The teachers want out of here as much as we do.”
Amy shrugged and changed the subject. “Are you guys aware that this is the last lunch we will ever have together as seventh graders?” she asked, gazing at each of us solemnly.
“Wow,” Jessica Wu said in her sweetly spacey way. Her straight black hair, up in a ponytail, was even spikier than usual. “That’s intense!”
“Well, think of it this way,” said Becky Davis. “We have a whole year full of eighth-grade lunches to look forward to.” Becky tends to look on the bright side of things. (I’m a bit of a pessimist sometimes, so Becky’s attitude can be both frustrating
refreshing.) She’s tall and pretty, with shoulder-length black curls, deep brown eyes, and dark skin. She’s the kind of person you’d be totally jealous of if she weren’t your BFF. Luckily, she’s mine.
I pushed my wavy, light brown hair out of my eyes and glanced down at the time on my cell phone. Ten minutes till the end of lunch. I wondered what my friends were waiting for. If they were planning to surprise me with cake and presents now, they had better hurry up.
Sure, my birthday was more than two weeks away. But this was the last time we were all going to be in one place together till the end of August. It was time to get cracking.
“So when do you leave for Hawaii?” I asked Jessica, knowing full well what the answer was. Maybe they just needed a little reminder….
“Tomorrow morning!” she crowed.
Everyone gazed at her enviously for a moment. Jessica
and her brother were going to spend the entire summer visiting their grandparents, who lived on the island of Maui. Hanging out on pink sand beaches, snorkeling, surfing, the works! Definitely a nice change from our small town of Elwood Falls, New Hampshire.
My friends and I all had different plans for the summer. Becky was leaving for sleepaway tennis camp in a couple of days, and I was missing her already. Heather would spend the month of July in the place her family rented every year in South Carolina. And Amy, whose parents were both elementary school teachers, was going on a cross-country trip in a rented Winnebago. It had an educational bent, which Amy was not all that thrilled about. “But it ends up in Disneyland,” she had told us. “So I guess I can’t complain. Too much.”
I was going away with my family, too, but only for two weeks. Still, I was really excited about our trip. Maine, which borders New Hampshire, is one of my favorite places in the world. Eating lobster rolls and whoopie pies, swimming, clamming, stargazing, catching fireflies, toasting marshmallows for s’mores, picking fresh blueberries for pies and crumbles. What’s not to like? We were renting
this cool old house by the ocean. And the best part is that my loud, messy, overwhelming family doesn’t even bother me so much when we’re away. Being the one organized person in a family of six isn’t easy. But when we’re on vacation none of it seems to matter.
Becky began to gather up the remnants of her lunch into a brown paper bag. “Del, when do you leave for Maine again?” she asked me.
I smiled. Here was my opening. “Friday, July sixth,” I said.
“The day before my birthday,” I added.
The four stricken faces that looked back at me told me all I needed to know. There would be no birthday party in the lunchroom for me today.
Becky groaned. “That’s right!” she cried.
“We should have celebrated today!” said Amy.
Heather grimaced. “Oh, Del, I guess we got all caught up in the last day of school and …”
“Totally forgot all about your birthday,” finished Jessica. The three other girls gave her a dirty look for stating the obvious.
“What?” she said defensively. “That’s what we did!”
I stood up and grabbed my books, fighting down my disappointment. “No big deal,” I said.
“I feel awful,” said Becky, standing up to give me a hug.
I shrugged. “Really, it’s no big deal,” I repeated.
But actually, it kind of was. I hate having a summer birthday. I’ve never had cupcakes in the classroom, the whole class singing “Happy Birthday” to me. My mom always tells me that someday I’ll be happy when I’m grown up and I can take myself on a fancy birthday vacation with my friends. But that’s all good and fine when I’m, like, thirty.
And I knew I would have fun, celebrating on my actual birthday with my family up in Maine. But just once I’d like to have my friends around to help me celebrate. Unfortunately, they’re always on vacation. And for some reason, this year seemed worse than usual. I guess it was because I was about to turn thirteen. You know, the first birthday as a teenager and all that. You were supposed to do something special. Jessica was the first of our group to turn thirteen, back in February. Always up for something
different, she had taken us to a roller derby match — the Queen City Cherry Bombs vs. the Elm City Derby Damez. It was awesome. Amy had turned thirteen in March and had had a big bat mitzvah at a fancy catering hall, complete with a DJ and karaoke machine. Heather and Becky wouldn’t turn thirteen till October and November, respectively. But they both had big plans.
And then there was me, Del Bloom. Birth date: July 7. Birthstone: Ruby. Sign: Cancer. Flower: Larkspur. Best birthday gift: My dog, Buster, when I was six. Best birthday party: None. No doubt about it, summer birthdays bite.
The bell for the end of lunch rang. I flipped open the front cover of one of the five yearbooks on the table to make sure it was mine.
Have a muy excelente summer! Remember all the fun we had in Spanish class. Tu amigo, Jorge.
I clutched the yearbook to my chest and followed my friends out of the cafeteria.
That afternoon, “classes” were a blur of yearbook signing, chatting teachers, and discussing summer plans. Finally, the last bell rang and we surged out of our seats toward the door. Kids started cheering as we spilled into the hallways. Summer vacation had officially begun.
I walked to my locker to pick up my few remaining belongings. I quickly spun the dial around and snapped the lock open. I smiled as I removed the lock and placed it in my backpack. Wouldn’t be needing that again till September! I would have the same locker again in the fall, so nothing to be nostalgic about there. I took out my notebooks and folders and slammed my locker shut with finality.
Birthday disappointment aside, it had been a pretty good year. The only glitch had been my grandparents’ announcement, back in the spring, that they were moving to Florida — and leaving the family flower shop in my parents’ hands. That had been a huge, unwanted surprise. I’d had trouble getting used to the idea of my family running the store that had once, in my mind, just belonged to me and my grandparents. But I had learned to adjust, and things were going pretty well. We had even changed the name from the sort of unwieldy and old-fashioned “Flowers on Fairfield” to the cute and snappy “Petal Pushers.”
I turned around to head outside and meet up with my friends when I spotted Carmine Belloni across the hallway. He was leaning against his locker, studying a
rectangular piece of paper. I headed over to say good-bye. I was the only girl who had been invited to Carmine’s kindergarten birthday party and I still had a soft spot for him because of it. He was just as nice now as he’d been back then.
Carmine looked up. “Hey, Del,” he said. “Are you going to the party, too? It’s at that new catering place that’s supposed to be really cool.”
“What party?” I asked, interested. The new catering place sounded super posh, with chandeliers and fountains and marble staircases and all that stuff. Was someone having an end-of-year party? That would be fun!
Carmine held up the piece of paper he had been looking at. I leaned over to take a look. It was a fancy invitation. Gilt letters spelled out
ASHLEY’S THIRTEENTH BIRTHDAY.
I thought, instantly understanding why I hadn’t received one. “Ashley and I aren’t exactly best buds,” I explained to him.
“Oh, sorry, Del,” he said.
“No problem,” I said with a shrug. But I couldn’t take my eyes off the thick, cream-colored invite. The gold letters were raised. It looked like an engraved wedding
invitation. And then I nearly gasped when I saw the date — July 7.
I couldn’t even get four friends together, and Ashley Edwards was going to have a huge party! Not on her actual birthday, which is in mid-July, may I add.
I finally tore my eyes off the invite. With as much dignity as I could muster I said, “Have fun at the party, Carmine.” I told him that I would see him around and headed down the hall.
Where I saw Ashley and her two bodyguards (all right, her best friends) Rachel Lebowitz and Sabrina Jones, deep in conversation.