How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied (3 page)

BOOK: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied
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CREATURE FILE

SPECIES NAME:
Kevinidae Mechanogenius

KINGDOM:
Any place Daz is; the robot club; computer lab

PHYLUM:
Guys Who for Some Reason Think Daz Is Enjoyable Company and who Have Somewhat Nice Hair

WEIGHT:
Undetermined.

NATURAL HABITAT:
my kitchen (scarfing down Pizza Pops), the CERN lab (he wishes).

FEEDS ON:
Pizza Pops (see above), an inordinate amount of citrus, his thumbnail.

LIFE SPAN:
Despite über-nerd tendencies, he's managed to survive quite well this far. (Why is that? What's his secret?)

HANDLING TECHNIQUE:
Will do anything for a gift certificate to the GameStop.

I shut my locker door and shook my head. “Welcome to the wonderful world of girls, Kev,” I said, forcing my tight frown away. Liv would never let Ashley get away with being a jerk to me. She always had the best comebacks and never seemed to even care when the Sneerers snarked at us. Honestly, sometimes she even laughed. Without her, I felt like I was alone on a dinghy in a great big ocean of piranhas.

The anticipation of our wish buzzed inside me again. All I had to do was get through today.

“Oh,” I said, yanking open my locker again. “You forgot your robot parts in my locker last week. Did you need them?” I pointed to the disembodied arms that littered the floor. Being a supersmart guy and all, Kevin was big into robots. They filled up his locker and even Daz's, so sometimes when he needed extra space, I let him use mine. I liked to think it would buy me karma points if the robots ever became self-aware and went after us all.

He frowned. “Sorry. I can pick them up tomorrow, once I clean mine up. Is that okay?” He gave me a sheepish look.

I shrugged. “No problem. Not like they can do much harm when they don't have bodies, right?” I snorted at my own joke and mentally cursed myself for being such a dweeb. But Kevin didn't seem to notice.

“Hey, Ana,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “I can make it up to you! Daz said you're not doing so hot in math?”

I shot a glare at Daz, who simply shrugged.

“Ugh,
yes
,” I muttered. “I mean, ‘not so hot' is an understatement. I'm failing.” The word tasted bitter in my mouth. “I don't know what an integer is and don't even get me started on common denominators.”

I cringed as another wave of heat crawled over the back of my neck. I hated feeling stupid around Kevin.

“You want some help? I'm pretty good at math,” Kevin said, chewing his thumbnail.

I scoffed. I was surprised “pretty good” was even in Kevin's vocabulary. “Nah, I'll be okay,” I said. “I'll figure it out. Somehow. Thanks though.” I gave him a smile, but it was hard to hide the panic that was lurking behind it. My life was crazy enough without inviting genius-boy Kevin in to inspect it.

Growing List of Things I Will Never Understand about Boys

1.
How come none of them seem to
ever
worry about how they look? And yet, they all manage to look okay. Even Daz, a guy who spends exactly four minutes in the bathroom each morning and half of that is drawing on a fake mustache with Dad's shaving cream and chasing me around the hallway. But girls still look at him when he walks into a room, and
some
girls even think he's cute. Gross.

2.
Kevin. Pretty much everything about him. The weird thing is, I used to think I understood
everything
about Kevin. He likes robots, and he's way too smart; he never drinks milk from the carton, and he always checks with my mom before opening a new box of cereal or crackers. But lately? Something seems different about him. You know those kooky Magic Eye things that reveal a secret picture when you stare at them in just the right way? Kevin seems like that, only I have no idea what the secret picture is. And there's no way I'm going to stare at him to find out.

3.
Groups
of boys. When groups of girls get together, we mostly talk about school or boys or books, or pretty much anything else on the planet. But when BOYS get together, it seems like things get grosser and grosser. I heard Daz talking with a group of guys at school once and it was all boogers, farts, and scabs. If girls
only
saw guys in groups, nobody would have a crush on any of them,
ever
.

chapter 3

“Chameleons have special cells in their skin that can change color, depending on light, temperature, and their emotional mood.”

—Animal Wisdom

If only I had special cells that could turn me invisible in English class, because I am SO not in the mood for this.

“And finally,” I said, sneaking one last look at the sweaty notes on my palm, “Harry Houdini died when he was fifty-two, from a ruptured, um, appendix,” I said. I stared at the back of the room, doing my best to ignore Ashley's snarky giggles from the sidelines.

Is there any better way to start an English class than by feeling like you're going to lose your Froot Loops all over the first row? After the longest two minutes of my life, I scrambled back to my desk as Mrs. Roca, our English teacher, nodded. “Thank you, Ana. Next time, when you find yourself wanting to say ‘um,' take a breath instead.” She smiled at me.

Please. If I
knew
I was going to say “um” ahead of time, doesn't she think I would just, oh, I don't know,
NOT
say it? I was just happy it was over. I could still hear my heart banging away in my eardrums. There was nothing worse than being on display at the front of the room. What I didn't know was that Mrs. Roca's plan for the rest of class included the two worst words a student can hear:
assigned
partners
.

She looked up over her glasses. “For the rest of the period, I'm going to partner you up so you can make your study list for your final exam. You can take today to catch up on any material you've missed, but starting tomorrow, your partner is your best friend here.” She toyed with the thick African beads around her neck. Mrs. Roca is such a weirdo. She eats blue Jell-O every day at exactly 9:43 and
always
pronounces my name like “Ah-na,” instead of plain old Ana, even though I've told her a bazillion times how to say it the right way.

My stomach began to knot. Liv was always my partner, but she wasn't here. This was going to be terrible. For once, I wished Daz was in this class so I could at least partner with him. I searched the back of the room for Bella. Maybe we could partner? Mrs. Roca read off the partners, and we waited, ready for the executioner's ax.

“Ms. Wright,” she finally said. “You will partner with Ms. Evans.” She pointed to the stone-cold face that was eyeing me from the side of the room.

Brooke. Ashley's third in command. Also known as Orange-You-Glad-I-Self-Tanned Evans. She glared at me warily, and then very slowly began to shake her head back and forth. I felt a thousand imaginary spiders crawling all over me. I was toast.

Ashley made a disgusted sound behind her but clammed up fast when Mrs. Roca paired her with Mark, one of Zack's best friends.

Honestly, sometimes I think teachers are mean for the sake of being mean.

“What crawled into your cave and died, Scales? You look more disheveled than normal.” Brooke settled in across from my desk a few minutes later, with her arms crossed over her chest. I knew she didn't mean it as anything but an insult, but the fact that Brooke noticed how terrible I looked stung pretty hard. Normally she doesn't notice anybody that isn't…her.

I wiped my eyes and looked longingly at the back of the room where Bella was partnered with Rachel, a girl who played field hockey. They looked like they were having fun.

Just
get
through
today,
I told myself again.
After
your
wish
today, you and Liv will be partners for
every
project
again.
I glanced at the clock on the wall. Only a couple hours left!

“Okay, what other essay questions do you think we should be worried about here?” I ignored Brooke's comment and flipped to a fresh page in my notebook, skimming past my version of Mrs. Roca being chased by a walrus in the margins. She glared at me for a moment, popped a giant bubble of bright pink gum, and returned to look at her nails.

Clearly asking her what she thought was the wrong way to approach this.

“I'm thinking we should probably make sure we know about
To
Kill
a
Mockingbird
,” I said, shaking my head at the fact that I was even trying. “Mrs. Roca spent a lot of time on that one, and with it being a classic and all…” I looked up to her for her reaction.

Pop!

“Whatever you say.” Her heavily mascaraed lashes dropped back down to her notebook, which was covered in notes from her and Ashley. I could also make out a bunch of cartoon flowers, with their wilted petals falling toward the bottom of the page. They were pretty good, actually.

Guess I wasn't the only doodler in the room.

“I'm not happy about this either,” I said. “I know you'd much rather be working with Ashley.” I lowered my voice, so I didn't catch her attention. “But we really need to do this. The exam is in less than two weeks. You want to pass, don't you?”

She raised one eyebrow into a cold arch, but the rest of her face stayed the same. I'd have to practice that move in the mirror, because it gave me chills. Her brown eyes slid behind me toward Ashley, who was too busy adjusting her boobs for maximum cleavageness to notice.

“I think
Mockingbird
will definitely be on the exam,” she said softly, but kept the hard look in her eyes.

I tried to hide my shock by clearing my throat. Was there a glitch in the matrix or something? Or had Brooke actually spoken to me without hurling an insult?

Weird.

I blinked, then flipped back in my notebook to our study notes from the start of the year. “She asked us to write about why the author would choose a young narrator…but she didn't have that on the last test…” I looked up.

“Is that supposed to be Ashley?” she piped up, grabbing my notebook before I could stop her. She flipped it over and inspected a sketch from my last class, her eyes narrowed.

I was so dead meat. Why had I drawn Ashley as a dragon?! This was actual evidence that could be used against me. Mayday!

“Ah,” I said, clearing my throat. “No, of course not.” I tried to keep the fear from my eyes. Sneerers can smell fear a mile away, like a shark smelling a drop of blood in the water.

I winced as she tilted the notebook on its side, getting a closer look. “You've got her eyes right,” she said, biting her lip. “The tail is too long, I think. Maybe give her claws too,” she added, handing it back to me with a sly smile.

Uhh…

Brooke began scribbling notes with her lime-green pen. “Anyway, yeah.
Mockingbird.
That sounds about right.” She paused for a minute, underlining some words on her page. “I really need to pass this exam,” she breathed quietly, more to herself than me. Her shoulders slumped over her desk.

I looked up from my page. “Not doing so hot?” It felt oddly nice to think that one of the Sneerers was failing something in life, even if it was only English. I tried not to show relief on my face as I flipped my incriminating sketch behind some pages.

She grimaced, scrunching up her dainty nose. “Yeah, I didn't pass the last test.” She reached down into her bag and pulled out a small pocket nail file in the shape of a sunflower. “Too many books on our list. And Ashley wanted us to fund-raise for the swim team, so I haven't had time,” she mumbled. “Posters and stuff,” she said when I gave her a quizzical look. She began filing her nails, with her mouth pulled into a tight thin line.

“Oh. That…sucks. Yeah, I think Mrs. Roca must think we're all speed-reading robots,” I said absently, watching the quick, deliberate movements of the sunflower as she filed.

“Why do you do it?” I blurted. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “I mean, you're not even on the swim team. So why do you get stuck making posters?” I don't know why I asked. I had a feeling I already knew the answer.

Her glance darted to Ashley. “She's dead set on raising the most money this year,” she said, shrugging. She stared down at her hands. “Her sister is, like, hard-core competitive.” She leaned closer to me. “Rebecca wins the fund-raiser prize
every
year.” She nodded secretively to me, like this should explain everything.

“Huh,” I said. I'd never met this Brooke before. She seemed a lot smaller than usual. Deep inside, it made me sort of happy that Ashley didn't feel good enough compared to her sister. But really, her sister was so much
nicer
, it seemed almost fair. Having a sister had to be better than a brother, I bet. Even if she was mean or competitive.

“Hey,” I said, peering over at her fingers. Tiny flowers were painted on near her cuticles. “I really like your nail polish. You're good at that.” My throat felt tight giving her a compliment.

She smiled broadly, then looked back through her dark bangs to see if Ashley was watching. “Thanks. Whenever I get nervous, I file them. Or paint them. It sort of helps me”—she considered for a moment—“focus.”

She flicked the file across her nail once more and held her hand out to inspect it. “Probably doesn't help much.” She shrugged, straightening up. “So. What else do you think we should study?”

The next forty-five minutes with Brooke belonged in some fantasy novel, because they sure as heck didn't seem real. Although she never once really looked at me—or heaven forbid, cracked another smile—she actually helped make real study notes. She even said that I could get rid of the bags under my eyes with some cotton balls soaked in coffee. True, that's sort of an insult wrapped in a snarky instructional, but it's something.

Strange Things about Girls That I Will Never Understand, Despite Being One

1.
How come some girls seem to intuitively know how to do their hair perfectly? Like Brooke, for example. She's the only brunette in the Sneerers (which I think Ashley holds against her), but she always knows how to do her hair in those messy-but-perfect updos. If I tried that, I'd look like a microwaved scarecrow. Where do they learn this stuff? I barely have the ability to brush my teeth without stabbing myself in the face. Is there an online forum that can help me? YouTube?

2.
Likewise, the muffin top. Why can't all girls have it, so we can level out the playing field? Not that I would wear thong underwear and have bright pink straps hanging out from my jeans like Ashley does, but a definitive lack-of-muffin-top would make things a lot easier. There must be a compromise here.

3.
Personalities. Sometimes I think that girls have two (or more) of them. Brooke around Ashley is worse than a moody hyena, but without Ashley she becomes almost…nice. Interesting even. But Ashley always seems the same: nasty as a badger. And from what I can tell, the only thing worse than being enemies with her is being
friends
with her. How do girls keep track of all this? And how can I make sure that Evil Brooke does not randomly show up while we're knee-deep in study notes in English?

The bell at the end of the day couldn't ring soon enough. When it finally did, I made a mad dash for my locker, gathered my things, and powerwalked home before the buses were even pulling out of the parking lot. I didn't care that you look like a dweeb when you powerwalk, with your elbows stuck out like you're wearing swim floaties. I didn't care that I was probably forgetting some homework under the robot mess in the bottom of my locker. And I really didn't care that I almost slipped in a pile of dog you-know-what on the sidewalk in my race home.

All that mattered was that it was wish time.

Having Liv home again would make all that stuff not matter.

I bolted into the kitchen and rummaged around in the cabinet, searching for the package of chocolate cupcakes that I'd hidden from Daz, tucked behind the microwave. I clutched the package in my hand as I ran upstairs to my bedroom, sighing with relief when I saw the clock.

Perfect timing.

I unwrapped the crinkly foil and set the cupcake in front of me, ready to go. Already the relief was making me giddy.

“This is going to work, Darwin!” I giggled at the shiny yellow eyes staring up at me and poked my finger through the metal bars of his cage. Charles Darwin is my African gray parrot, but I only call him his full name when he poops on my head and he's in trouble. This happens more than I'd like to admit. We even have a teeny picture of the
real
Charles Darwin, all bearded and serious looking, stuck to his cage in case bird-Darwin is ever curious about his namesake.

Darwin's super smart and has been my friend for years, ever since Mom brought him home from a veterinarian she works with at the zoo. He can't fly because of a wonky wing, but he sure can talk. I like to think he's pretty happy here with us because I spoil him rotten with fruit and veggie treats. I also bring him up to my room
every
night so he doesn't have to sleep in the empty living room by himself. It's fun, even though sometimes it's like having a feathery toddler over for a sleepover. Ooh! Liv and I could have summer sleepovers soon too!

BOOK: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied
9.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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