Authors: Lisa McMann
“Oh cool, you have a dog? Me too. A couple of them. Big ones.”
“Yes! Jessie is the best. We also have two cats.”
“I wish we could have a cat,” said Maria, “but one of my stepbrothers is allergic.”
“You can borrow ours if you want to come over sometime.”
They talked for almost an hour about all sorts of things they had in common, and about their differences, too, like in what they enjoyed reading.
“Do you like horse books?” asked Maria.
“They're okay,” said Charlie. “I like books with fantasy more, though, and I just started reading graphic novels.”
“Ooh, I love comics!” said Maria.
“Well, I've never read an
comic book,” Charlie admitted.
“But I'd like to try one. I just . . . I'm not sure where to start, I guess.”
“You should try Spider-Gwen or Ms. Marvel,” Maria said. “They're about high school girls, not stupid old guys. I'll lend them to you when Mac is done reading. He and I trade comics all the time.”
“Thanks,” said Charlie, beaming.
By the time they hung up, Charlie was feeling so much better that she forgot to text Amari about her injury.
Maybe living in Navarro Junction wasn't going to be so bad after all.
hen Charlie woke up the next morning, she walked all the way to the bathroom before she remembered her injured leg. It didn't hurt at all. There was barely any swelling. The red and purple bruising had faded to green and yellow on her skin. Only fifteen hours earlier she'd thought it was broken, and now it was practically healed.
That's so crazy
, thought Charlie as she took the bracelet off her wrist and turned on the shower.
At breakfast Charlie's dad hurried into the kitchen with his tie loose around his neck and a pair of socks in his hand, looking frazzled. “Oh,” he said, giving her a strange look. “You're up and about. Are you going to school today?”
“Um, yes,” said Charlie, narrowing her eyes at him. “Why wouldn't I? What's going on?”
Dad started yanking on his socks. “I've got an early meeting I forgot to tell you about,” he said. “Can you be ready to go in five minutes?”
“What?” Charlie dropped her spoon into her cereal bowl and stared. “Dad! Clearly not. I have to finish getting ready.” She got
up and started toward the stairs. “What about Andy?”
“I remembered to tell him,” Charlie's dad mumbled apologetically. “He's ready.”
“Dad!” she said again.
“I'm sorry. I thought you were staying home from school because of your leg.”
“Are you kidding? The team roster will be posted this morning. I have to be there! Can't Mom drive me?”
“She's sleeping after pulling a double shift. She got home at four in the morning.”
Charlie sighed. “Maybe she should just live at the hospital.” She ran upstairs and grabbed her bracelet and earrings from the bathroom counter, putting them on as she went to her room to finish getting dressed. Her homework sat on her desk, only half completed. She'd been planning to finish it this morning.
“Just go with Andy,” she called out, exasperated but trying not to shout too loud so she wouldn't wake her mother. “I'm not ready yet, so I'll walk to school.”
“Are you sure? Doesn't your leg hurt? Do you know the way?”
“My leg's fine,” she said, roaming around her room trying to find her shoes. “I know there's a shortcut through the football stadium. Lots of kids go that way.”
Dr. Wilde bounded up the staircase and appeared in Charlie's bedroom doorway holding his briefcase and overcoat. “You're sure?” he asked.
Charlie rolled her eyes. “Dad, you don't have to worry about me. I used to take the âL' train to school, remember?”
“So as long as I don't walk into a cactus, I'm pretty sure I'll be just fine.”
Dr. Wilde looked at his daughter. “But you're just a little kid in a strange new neighborhood,” he said finally, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Charlie could tell he was having a sentimental moment. “Dad, stop,” she said. “I already know how to get everywhere. This whole town is like the size of Navy Pier.”
Charlie's dad let out a sigh as Andy sauntered by with his backpack. “All right. Be careful. Walk with other students. Watch for cars, andâ”
“Now you're embarrassing yourself.”
Dr. Wilde laughed and reached out to tousle Charlie's hair.
She reared back. “Dude, don't mess with the tresses!”
“Dude?” he shook his head. “My daughter just called me dude. Wow. Can't wait to tell the students about this.”
Charlie grinned. “Get to work. Ohâby the way, I'm staying after school today to help with the set, if that's okay with you.”
“The set?” asked Dr. Wilde, puzzled.
Charlie followed. “Yeah. For the musical we're doing in theater class. Is that okay?”
“Ah, sure,” said Dr. Wilde. He set down his briefcase and
slipped on his jacket. Andy hollered from the front door, wondering if he was coming.
Charlie raised an eyebrow. “You didn't even remember I'm taking theater, did you?”
“Um . . . ,” Dr. Wilde said absently. He whirled around, looking for something, and picked up his briefcase. “Where'd I put my coffee?” He headed down. “Love you, Charlie! Have a great day.”
“Love you too,” Charlie said, stepping out into the hallway to watch him descend. “Maybe if you're not being embarrassing, I'll let you drive me home.”
Charlie's dad rounded the corner into the kitchen below and disappeared from sight.
“I'll text you if I need a ride,” she called after him, and then shrugged. It was odd to see her dad preoccupied and rushing off to work like that. She finished getting ready, noting that she was running out of clean clothes to wear. At least tomorrow they'd be unpacking the rest of their stuff.
She hurried through the math problems she had to finish. They were harder than she'd expected. Finally she got the work done, grabbed her backpack, and left the house, locking the door behind her.
She hurried through the neighborhood toward school. Seeing some familiar-looking students ahead of her, she followed them down a path that linked Charlie's neighborhood with the ones next to it.
This must be the shortcut
, Charlie thought. On the phone last night, Maria had told her that there were seven or eight neighborhoods in a circle around the junior high, and all of them were connected by walking paths. Charlie had told Maria where she lived, and Maria figured out that her house was on the opposite side of the school grounds from Charlie'sâbut it wasn't very far because of the shortcut. She explained that some paths led to the municipal football field next to school, where all the kids converged and streamed through the gate to the school property.
Charlie kept an eye on the time and began picking up speed. She wanted to get to Coach Candy's office before class so she could see if she made the team, and she had no idea how long it would take to walk to school this way.
After a few minutes Charlie began to worry that she wasn't going to make it in time. And then she wondered if this was even the right way to her school. She didn't actually know for sureâwhat if all these kids walking in this direction were going somewhere else?
Charlie knew it was silly. They were all wearing backpacks like her. She thought about asking one of the kids she passed, but she chickened outâbecause, what a dumb question! Instead, she moved faster along the path and remembered the first time she'd taken the “L” train to school all by herselfâshe'd had the same worries. But at least back then she'd traveled it with her dad several times first to make sure she was familiar with the route.
Charlie laughed to herself. Amari would totally make fun of her for being nervous about walking through neighborhoods like these. She pulled out her phone and took a quick Snapchat of her view as she hurried to school, and sent it to her Chicago friends.
Finally Charlie saw football bleachers and goalposts, and the rooftops of school buildings beyond it. Relief washed through her. She began sprinting toward them, past the other students, still anxious about making it to Coach's office in time. Her leg felt as good as everâmaybe even better than ever, if that was possible. And before she knew it, she was flying across the grass. Charlie had never run this fast before. It was completely crazy. And kind of awesome.
“Hey, Chuck!” Maria called as Charlie whizzed by.
Charlie slowed as Maria ran to catch up. Mac trailed behind her.
“Hi,” Charlie said, catching her breath. “I didn't want to be late.”
“I thought you broke your leg,” Mac said when he caught up to the girls.
“I told you it
broken,” Maria said, sounding mildly annoyed. “We just thought at first that it might be.” She turned to Charlie and linked arms with her, tugging her toward school. Charlie glanced back at Mac, who was frowning at his phone. He looked up and all around, like he was searching for someone.
“Are you coming, Mac?” Charlie asked.
“Yep,” Mac said, beginning to follow. “Just looking for somebody.” He texted rapidly as he walked.
“Who?” asked Maria. She slowed slightly, and Mac caught up.
“Jason Baker. He needs me to jailbreak his phone.”
“What's he trying to do?”
“Apps, hotspot, text from Lock screen. The usual.”
Charlie looked at Mac curiously. She had only a vague idea of what he was talking about.
“Is it really necessary to be able to text from the Lock screen?” Maria said with a hint of condescension.
“It's ten bucks,” said Mac, shrugging. “Besides, you do it.”
“I wouldn't pay to have it done, though.”
Mac gave her the side-eye. “Because I didn't charge you for it.” He scanned the students again, and his face brightened. “There he is.” He ran a short distance ahead to where two paths converged. A boy handed Mac his phone and a ten-dollar bill. Mac pocketed the device and the money and kept walking with Jason.
“Nice gig,” Charlie said to Maria.
“Yeah . . . kids pay him to do all sorts of tech stuff. Heck, even my mom paid him to set up our modem router thingy.” Maria looked Charlie up and down. “So you're okay? You were running superfast. Your leg doesn't hurt?”
“Not really,” Charlie said.
“That's . . . a little strange,” Maria said. “Don't you think it's strange?”
“I guess.” Charlie shrugged. “I'm just glad it feels better.”
Maria pressed her lips together but didn't say anything else. They walked into the gymnasium and jostled their way through the swarm of students toward Coach Candy's office.
Kelly joined up with them as they reached Coach's door, and everyone crowded in front of the list posted there.
A few girls walked away quickly, frowning or with heads down. Others whooped and high-fived. Kelly and Maria pushed in, straining to see, and almost simultaneously shouted, “Yes!”
Charlie hopped up and down, trying to see over the others to get a look. Finally she squeezed between two girls and stood in front of the list.
She scanned over Kelly's name, then Maria's. Her eyes traveled all the way to the bottom. And there, the second to the last name, was Charlie Wilde.
harlie brought her fingers to her lips, a grin spreading over her face. She'd made the soccer team in spite of the injury. What a relief!
“Yes!” she whispered. She skittered out of the way of other girls who were trying to see, and ended up face-to-face with Kelly.
“Congratulations,” Kelly said.
“Oh,” Charlie said. “Thanks, you too.”
“You made it?” squealed Maria.
Charlie laughed. “I made it!”
“Of course you did! You played terrific!” Maria whooped and threw her arms open wide and hugged Charlie, and they jumped around together in the hallway like they'd been best friends forever.
Kelly tilted her head, a suspicious look on her face as she watched Charlie hopping around.
When they came to a stop, Kelly put her hand on her hip. “So, Charlotte, how's your leg?”
“It's much better,” Charlie said.
“That's really great to hear. Because Coach sort of ripped
into me after tryouts for playing rough, so I really hope it wasn't because you were faking it. Because then we'd have a problem.”
Charlie stared, the smile fading from her lips and her eyes narrowing. “No, I wasn't faking it, Kelly,” she said. “In fact, I was kind of wondering if you intentionally tried to kick me.”
Of course not!” Kelly said. “I'm just saying you don't seem very injured after telling everybody it was broken.”
Charlie felt her face growing hot, and her voice became quieter. “I never said it was broken,” she responded, taking a step toward Kelly so their faces were inches apart. “Coach did. And luckily for you it wasn't broken becauseâ”
,” Maria interrupted in a low voice. “Are you
to get kicked off the team right now? Because Coach is just behind that door.”
Charlie glanced over her shoulder at the clouded-glass inset in the door. She could see the shadow of Coach's upper body sitting behind her desk inside. Charlie's mouth twitched in anger, but she relaxed her posture and took a step away from Kelly. “I'm going to class,” she muttered as the bell rang.
“Good call,” Maria said with a slight shake of the head. She flashed a puzzled look at Kelly and went with Charlie to first period.
Kelly dropped her gaze. She hesitated a moment, but the three girls were all going to the same class, so she had no choice but to follow.
At lunch Charlie found Maria and Mac. Kelly sat at the popular table a short distance away as usual. Now that a few hours had passed and Charlie'd had time to cool off, she felt a little silly about how defensive she'd been. She set down her tray across from Maria, then went up to Kelly and apologized. “Hi . . . I'm sorry for getting in your face this morning.”
“Oh, no problem!” said Kelly with a smile. She raised an eyebrow at her friends, who watched the exchange with wide eyes and too-innocent faces.
Charlie hesitated, a sense of dread filling her. She knew what that meantâKelly would be talking about her later. But there was nothing she could do about it. If she said anything else it would just give Kelly more to talk about. So she went back to her table. When she glanced at Kelly, she saw her lean over and whisper something to her tablemates that made them snicker.
“Blurgh,” said Charlie, flopping into her chair. Mac's head was down and his food untouched as he worked on Jason Baker's phone under the table.
“What's wrong?” asked Maria.
“I don't know. I'm not sure what Kelly's deal is.”
“What do you mean?” Maria asked. “Are you talking about this morning?”
Charlie bit into her cheeseburgerâshe was starving. She chewed, swallowed, and said carefully, “I can't figure her out. I
don't think she likes me very much, but I'm not sure why.”
“Well,” said Maria, “you did kind of get in her face.”
“She did?” asked Mac, looking up. “Dang, I missed it.”
“Yeah,” Charlie admitted. “But I just apologized.”
“Do you get in people's faces a lot?” Mac asked.
Charlie turned to him and pretended to be tough. “You wanna find out?”
“Whoa,” said Mac, leaning back. He laughed.
Charlie grinned sheepishly. “I learned how to fake being tough in Chicago in case I ever got into a scary situation on the âL' train. But yeah, I mean, I'd much rather avoid conflict if possible.”
“Oh,” said Mac, sounding a bit disappointed. He went back to work under the table.
Charlie shrugged and turned to Maria, her face clouding. “Anyway, it made me mad when Kelly said I was faking. She really kicked me hardâas hard as . . . as hard as a . . .” Charlie struggled to find a comparison.
“Kangaroo?” suggested Mac, not looking up.
“Yeah! And everybody at tryouts saw how bad it looked.”
“Sometimes you have to ignore Kelly,” Maria said.
“Maybe.” But Charlie wasn't ignoring her now. She watched as several people from Kelly's table looked over at her. She lowered her voice. “Now they're talking about me. Look.”
Maria leaned forward and put her hand on Charlie's arm. “Can I give you some friendly advice?”
“Try not to get too caught up in things with Kellyâshe's . . . well, she's not the easiest friend to have right now.”
“Oh,” said Charlie, confused. “Okay.”
“Truth is, she was probably just embarrassed that you got past her defense. And it's no fun when Coach has a talk with you, you know? Kelly's not all bad. And things will be better when you're on the same team as her, working together.” She smiled. “But for now you've got me.” She glanced at Mac, who was eating Tater Tots and staring at Jason's phone. “Us, I mean. Right, Mac?”
“Yeah, sure,” Mac said, not looking up. He pushed his chair back, picked up his tray, and stood. “I need to plug in to finish Jason's jailbreak, and then we're going to check out some new apps. Later.”
“Wait!”said Maria, shoving her chair in his path so he couldn't get past her. “We haven't talked all day. Are you coming over after school?”
Mac grinned. “Of course. Plus, I told your mom I'd defrag her ancient desktop, so I'll get that started if I beat you there. You get the new Avengers yet?”
“Yeah, it's on my desk. Are you finished with Ms. Marvel or Spider-Gwen? Charlie wants to read one.”
“Yep, I'm done. They were both actually pretty awesome. I'll bring them tomorrow.” He looked at Charlie. “You like comics?”
Charlie nodded and then blushed. “I mean, I think I will. Maria
convinced me I should try one.”
“You should,” Mac said. He looked around and spotted someone, then tapped the back of Maria's chair impatiently so he could pass. “Okay. See you after school.”
“Bye.” Maria pulled in her chair, and Mac skirted around it and went to the tray drop-off.
Maria watched him go and sighed. “Whatever.”
Maria shook her head. “I don't know. . . .”
Charlie studied her. It seemed like she did know. “Something with Mac?” she asked.
“I guess. I don't think he likes hanging out with me at school anymore. Not much, anyway.”
Maria shrugged. She finished her milk and smashed the carton. “We've had lunch together almost every day since second grade, but things have been different lately,” she said glumly.
“Well,” said Charlie, “he seemed happy enough to be going to your house after school. Does he do that a lot?”
“Yeah, he acts normal there. He's practically a member of my family. He even hangs out with them when I'm not home.”
“That's cool.” Charlie watched through the cafeteria window as Mac slapped hands with Jason Baker and another boy and they set off together. “Maybe he just wants to hang out with some guys too?”
“Maybe,” Maria said. “Oh well. Hey, do you wanna come over after school too?”
“I can't,” Charlie said. “I told Mr. Anderson I'd help with
Bye Bye Birdie
. We're building the set.”
“That dude's such a nut ball. Isn't Kelly acting in that show? Will she be there too?”
“No idea. She might be too big of a star to do crew work.” Charlie grinned.
Maria gave a sympathetic smile. “She's probably the last person you want to face with a hammer in her hand at this point. Is she one of the leads again?”
“Do you even have to ask?”
They giggled and got up to put their trays away.
“Maybe tomorrow or Sunday would work to hang out, though,” Charlie said.
“Oh good. I'll text you my address,” Maria said. “Have a good one. Break a leg! Or waitâmaybe not.”
“Ha-ha. I'll try not to,” Charlie said.