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Authors: Carolyn Mackler

Best Friend Next Door (2 page)

BOOK: Best Friend Next Door
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“That’s so funny,” Emme says, grinning. “I love peanut butter
anything
. Almost as much as I hate—”

I cut her off. “Pizza?”

She opens her eyes big. “How did you know that I hate pizza?”

No! She cannot love peanut butter AND hate pizza. Without saying anything, I turn and storm into my house.

I don’t want a baby in my life, and I definitely don’t want an identical twin.

I
still can’t believe we’ve left Florida and moved to Greeley, New York. For the first ten (and three-quarters) years of my life, I lived on Captiva Island with my moms and my fat orange cat. We had the ocean on one side and the bay on the other. Now we live in a small town where the only body of water is the YMCA pool. I used to collect shells on the beach and swim outside every day and set up my easel and sketch tropical flowers on our back porch. Now I’m sitting in an empty bedroom at the top of the stairs, staring at the paint samples that Mom J brought me this morning. She selected shades of pink like Luscious Blush, Diva, and Sunrise Surprise. I haven’t liked pink since kindergarten. I’m more of a periwinkle blue kind of girl.

For the four days that we’ve been here, Mom J (otherwise known as Julia, or my short mom) has been pointing out all the “great” things about Greeley. She says we’ll go to an apple orchard this fall and plant a garden in the spring and go strawberry picking next summer. Like that’s supposed to make me happy about moving. Fruit is fine and all, but it’s not like a fresh peach can hang out with me and help me decide what I’m going to wear for the first day of school.

“Lunch is ready, Em,” Mom C calls up the stairs. That’s Claire (or my tall mom). Up until now, Mom C has been the stay-at-home parent. But starting tomorrow my moms are trading places. Mom C will be working at a big law firm in Rochester. That’s why we moved here. “Peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. Crusts cut off.”

“And local apples!” Mom J chimes in.

As if a local apple a day can keep the loneliness away.

“Emme!” Mom C calls again. “No ignoring. We know you’re up there.”

My cat, Butterball, is curled in a mound outside my door. I heave him into my arms and head down the stairs. He immediately starts purring. He loves being cradled like a baby. We think it’s because he was a stray when he was little, so he’s making up for his lost kittenhood. Back in Captiva, my friends and I used to dress him in bonnets and bibs.

When I get to the kitchen, Mom C and Mom J are laughing. They’ve been a couple since college. People always comment on how perfect they are together. I guess it’s true, but recently they’ve been annoying me. Maybe it was the long drive up north. Or maybe it was how they didn’t give me a choice about leaving Captiva Island.

“What amazing apples,” Mom C says as we sit on stools at the kitchen counter. Mom J sliced them onto a plate, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mom J passes the apples to me. “If it doesn’t rain, let’s check out an orchard when Mom C goes to work tomorrow.”

“Do you really think picking apples will make me feel better about leaving Captiva?” I grumble, looking around the kitchen. A lot of our stuff is still in cardboard boxes stacked against one wall. We haven’t even hung any photos yet. “I don’t think I’m going to make it here through the fall.”

“Are you starting the
Back in Captiva
thing again?” Mom C asks. “I thought you said you’d
try
to like Greeley.”

I lick a glob of peanut butter off the side of my sandwich.

“Yeah, where’s my glass-half-full daughter?” Mom J says. She’s always talking about how we’re both optimists.

“Your glass-half-full daughter is back in Captiva,” I say.

They laugh like it’s a joke, but I’m not finding it funny. I know the truth is that I have to survive fall and winter and spring (and every season until … forever). It was a big deal when Mom C got hired as a lawyer at this firm. Mom J quit her job at the newspaper. She’s going to stay home and write during the day and drive me wherever I need to go. I’m going to try out for swim team and find a place to ice-skate, just like I did in Florida. People don’t realize there are rinks in Florida, but it’s true.

“What about Butterball?” Mom J asks.

“That’s right,” Mom C says, nodding brightly. “That’s a definite plus about being here.”

It’s true that my cat’s life has improved in Greeley. Back in Captiva, we lived in an apartment on the second floor of a house. Butterball’s only fresh-air time was on the screened porch, where he’d pace the perimeter, meowing angrily. Here in Greeley, we have a backyard with trees to scratch and birds to stalk. Anytime Butterball wants to go outside, he squeezes his round body through the cat door and romps around Centennial Avenue.

I sigh heavily. “I guess so.”

“Did you look over those paint samples?” Mom J asks. “Once we get your room decorated, you’ll feel much more settled in.”

“What about seeing if the girl next door wants to hang out?” Mom C suggests. “Hannah, right? She seemed nice.”

I set down my sandwich. I don’t want to tell my moms that their paint choices are hideous. Or that the girl next door hated me the instant she met me. It’s not my fault we have the same birthday and I was wearing my tie-dye shirt! I decide not to respond because then they’ll start in on how I’m being glass-half-empty.

Honestly, at the moment, it’s hard to find a drip of
anything
in the glass. The glass is bone-dry.

The next morning, it’s raining hard out. Mom C comes into my room early to give me a kiss good-bye. I rub my eyes. It’s weird to see her dressed in a charcoal-colored suit, her hair blown straight. I’m used to the stay-at-home Mom C—ponytail, jeans, T-shirts.

When I get downstairs, Mom J makes me yogurt and toast, jots a few things on the grocery list, then disappears down the hall with a crate of papers in her arms. Back in Captiva (here I go again), Mom J used to cover parenting issues for the local paper. Now she’s going to write articles for magazines. I’ve told her that, since I’m almost eleven, I’m not sure I want her writing about me. When I was little, she’d publish articles like “Potty-Training Emme and Other Disasters.” At least my classmates couldn’t read at that point or I would have been the laughingstock of preschool.

“Want to see a movie this afternoon?” Mom J calls from her office. She’s clunking around in there, setting things up. “It looks like it’s going to rain all day.”

I bet it’s sunny on Captiva Island. School has already started down there, but I bet my friends Olivia and Lucy are going to the beach later this afternoon.

“Okay,” I say, spreading jam on my toast. I wish Hannah seemed nicer because it would be fun having a friend right next door. I doubt that’s going to happen, though, especially with the way she slammed her door on me that first day. I’ve spotted her on her side porch a few times since then, but we haven’t talked.

I take a bite of toast, swirl around my yogurt with my spoon, and watch the raindrops sliding down the window. I guess I’ll work on my shell drawings. On the drive up from Captiva, I drew pictures of shells from my collecting bag. My plan is to arrange the sketches on a piece of tagboard and glue real shells around the border. I’m going to send it to my cousin, Leesa, at her dorm. She’s in tenth grade at a boarding school in Connecticut and she’s artistic like me. Ever since last year, we’ve been mailing pieces of tagboard back and forth and adding on to each other’s until we have a complete collage. We’re already on our third back-and-forth collage.

As I carry my bowl to the sink, I glance at the food in Butterball’s dish. The rule in our family is that whoever gets up first has to fork in a (disgusting) can of Oceanfish and Tuna. Otherwise, Butterball will wail and nip at our ankles. The vet says we need to get him to lose weight, but it’ll never happen with the way he bugs us for his meals.

Butterball usually gulps down his food in eight seconds, but today he hasn’t touched it. I try to remember the last time I saw him. When I was falling asleep last night, he was stretched around my head on the pillow.

“Mom J!” I shout, hurrying into her office. I’m not supposed to interrupt her when she’s writing, but this is feeling like an emergency situation.

“Did you feed Butterball this morning?” I ask. “Or did Mom C? Because his food is still in his dish.”

Mom J shakes her head. “I fed him around six thirty when I was making coffee.” She turns back to her computer. “Come to think of it, he wasn’t there. I just put the food in and assumed he was still in your room.”

“Well, he wasn’t!”

“Did you look in the backyard?” Mom J asks. “Try shaking the cat treats.”

We still haven’t unpacked my raincoat, but I hurry into the mudroom to put on my boots. Back in Captiva (okay, that’s my last one), we definitely didn’t have a mudroom.

Outside, the rain is still coming down. There are bloated pink worms writhing on the gravel path. I stand in the yard, rattling a container of Friskies Party Mix and calling, “Butterball! Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!
Butterbaaaaall!

But no Butterball. I wait at least ten minutes. By the time I come back inside, I’m drenched.

I’m kicking off my boots when I remember that yesterday, as I was brushing Butterball, I took off his collar. It’s a yellow collar with a bell and two tags. One tag is from the vet in Florida and the other has Mom C’s phone number. I dash into the living room, hoping one of my moms buckled his collar back on last night. But there it is, curled on the floor by Butterball’s scratching post.

I burst back into Mom J’s office. I feel a sob choking my throat. “Butterball didn’t come when I called and I took off his collar yesterday and now, if he’s lost, no one will know how to contact us.”

“He’s probably just exploring the neighborhood,” Mom J says. “Put on some dry clothes. You’re soaking wet.”

“So is Butterball, wherever he is.” I lean against Mom J’s desk and start crying. One thing about me is that I cry easily. I can’t help it. The tears come and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. “If he’s gone it’s all my fault.”

Mom J pushes out of her chair and wraps me in a hug. “He’ll come back, Em. But how about we go to an early movie and then get lunch out? That’ll keep your mind off things.”

“No pizza,” I say, wiping my eyes. Pizza grosses me out. If I’m even at the same
table
as someone eating pizza, I have to look away. Nobody believes me when I say that, which is why it was so weird that the girl next door specifically
asked
if I hated pizza.

“Of course not,” Mom J says. “Never pizza.”

After I change, we drive to the mall. They have a six-screen theater connected to an arcade. I generally love movies, but I can barely concentrate. I tap my feet all through the show and keep asking Mom J if she thinks Butterball will be there when we get home.

“Hopefully,” Mom J whispers. “Let’s think on the bright side.”

I nod weakly. The problem is, I just said good-bye to my friends and Captiva Island. I can’t handle losing my cat as well.

When the movie is over, Mom J squeezes my hand. “Maybe we’ll have lunch at home instead. That way we can check for Butterball.”

But when we walk into the kitchen, Butterball’s food is still in his dish. It’s dry and crusty and starting to reek. As Mom J scrapes it into the trash, my eyes prickle with tears.

“Did you tell Mom C?” I ask.

Mom J nods. “I texted her before.”

“What did she say?”

“She said he’s probably out exploring.”

But when Mom C gets home from work, it’s still raining and Butterball is still missing. Mom J makes my favorite dinner, spicy peanut noodles. I can barely eat it. Mom C and I go outside and call for Butterball. No luck. I try to read but I can’t get through a page. I go outside and call for Butterball for another ten minutes. This time I get soaking wet and my moms make me take a shower even though I’m totally not in the mood.

Mom J comes in to kiss me good night. “He’ll come back,” she says.

I clutch Butterball’s bib under my pillow and wipe back tears. “Did you know that
doom
spelled backward is
mood
? That’s what I’m in right now. A
doom mood
. That’s a palindrome.”

“Uh-huh,” Mom J says, yawning. “Why don’t you try getting some sleep? It’s been a long day.”

All night I hear the rain against my window. I try not to picture Butterball wet and scared and alone in this brand-new town.

BOOK: Best Friend Next Door
8.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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