Authors: Julie Bowe
Orlando Austin New York San Diego Toronto London
Many thanks to my agent, Steven Chudney, and to
my editor, Kathy Dawson. And special thanks to my son,
Eli (cow drawer extraordinaire), and to my daughter
Micah, for all the inspiration she provides.
Copyright Â© 2007 by Julie Bowe
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be submitted online at
to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bowe, Julie, 1962â
My last best friend/Julie Bowe.â1st ed.
Summary: After her best friend moves away, fourth-grader Ida May is determined
not to make a new best friend, despite the efforts of a new girl in her class.
[1. Best friendsâFiction. 2. FriendshipâFiction. 3. SchoolsâFiction.] I. Title.
Text set in Espirit Book
Designed by April Ward
A C E G H F D B
Printed in the United States of America
This is a work of fiction. All the names, characters, places,
organizations, and events portrayed in this book are products of
the author's imagination. Any resemblance to any organization,
event, or actual person, living or dead, is unintentional.
For my parents, Kris and Doris Henriksen,
my brothers NeiL and Scott, and for my
sister, Carol, who Long ago wished for a
Little sister. I'm glad her wish came true.
I'm Ida May, and there's one thing I know. Fourth grade isn't fourth at all.
means you've done something at least three times before. But fourth grade is nothing like third grade. Or second grade. Or first grade.
In fourth grade there is no more printing. There is only cursive. I hate cursive.
In fourth grade you are not allowed to add and subtract. You are only allowed to multiply and divide.
In fourth grade you're a baby if you still want to play with Barbies. Or if the Tooth Fairy still comes to your house. Or if you want your mother to walk you to the bus stop. Third grade is the last grade you can get by with any of that. Trust me.
In fourth grade you start to smell funny. So you get your first stick of teen deodorant, even though you won't actually be a teen for at least three years. Your mom leaves it on your bed in a little brown paper bag. You rub some on. After five tries you finally hit your armpit. When your mom smells you, she smiles and starts talking about stuff like "body image" and "healthy attitude" and "girl power."
Fourth grade is when your parents worry you are spending too much time alone and insist you hang out with Jenna Drews, the daughter of your school's PTA president. Your mom is on the PTA and just assumes the president's daughter is a nice, friendly girl.
Jenna may have your mother convinced that she is the nicest girl in the whole town of Purdee, Wisconsin, but the truth is, when Jenna isn't busy saving the planet, she's busy being mean.
Just before school starts, your dad calls Jenna's mom and arranges to drop the two of you off at the movies. While you wait for Jenna to order her natural spring water to go with the organic popcorn she had to bring from home, you open your jumbo box of Choco-chunks and dig in.
you say to yourself.
How many Choco-chunks can a person of average intelligence cram into her mouth without creating an emergency situation? Five? Ten?
You do a little test. But just when you shove the eighth chunk into your mouth, you hear someone say, "Excuse me? What time is it?"
You look up and see a strange girl looking back at you. She's smiling at you with the kind of smile you don't see on a real person very often. The kind you see a little kid draw with a big fat crayon on a piece of white paper. The kind you have to force yourself not to smile back at.
Trust me, you don't want to get too close to big-crayon smiles. That's because people with big-crayon smiles don't stick around very long. They move away just when you've gotten used to the way their hand feels sticky when you hold it, or the way they hiccup when they talk fast, or the way they whistle by sucking in instead of blowing out, or the way they can touch their nose with the tip of their tongue.
I know because my last best friend, Elizabeth Evans, moved away. She was the only friend I needed because we liked all the same things. Messy art projects. Corny jokes. Mild cheddar cheese.
Oh sure, we promised to always be best friends and to write to each other every week, which I did even though I'm a better drawer than writer. But she never wrote back. I did get a birthday card from her, but it was really from her mother. I could tell by the cursive. And that's the last time I didn't hear from her.
"The time?" the strange girl says again.
You look at your watch, rearrange the Choco-chunks in your mouth, and say, "Fofurdy."
"Four thirty?" she repeats like you're speaking another language or something.
You nod, which apparently she is capable of understanding because she says, "Thank you!"
Just then Jenna arrives with her or
food, sees the smiling girl, shoves you out of the way, and says, "Hi!" The girl says hi back, and right away Jenna starts asking her a million questions about herself. It doesn't take Jenna long to find out that her name is Stacey Merriweather, she just moved here, she's in the fourth grade, and she's planning to see the same movie you're planning to seeâand, why yes, she'd love to sit with you, and oh, by the way, that's Ida May.
By the time the movie's over, Jenna has given Stacey one of her bracelets, taken her phone number, and quietly informed you that she will be going to the movies with Stacey next time, not you.
Then Jenna teaches Stacey a secret hand-signal thing to say bye, and Stacey does the signal thing to you, too, only you're holding half a box of Choco-chunks in your secret-signal hand. Choco-chunks fly all over the place when you try to do the stupid signal back. So, while Jenna marches off to inform the theater manager about the mess you made, Stacey helps you pick up Choco-chunks and says how nice it was to meet you and how happy she is that you'll be in fourth grade, too, and all the while she's smiling that big-crayon smile and you have to practically bite your bottom lip off not to smile back.
And instead of letting yourself snort in a secret sort of way when Stacey points to a squished Choco-chunk on the bottom of a large woman's shoe, you just say "See ya," and let Jenna yank you out the door.
Because if you don't get out of there right away, it won't be long before you and Stacey are naming your socks and walking to the park backward and exchanging friendship bracelets that you promise never to take off even if they turn gray and start to smell like expensive cheese. And then you will promise to be best friends for the rest of your lives.
Or until one of you moves away.
Whichever comes first.
Even though I wish that the first day of school will not come, it comes, anyway. And even though I wish that Elizabeth will be standing at the bus stop, wearing her Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs T-shirt and mismatched sneakers, she isn't. The only people there are Quinn Kloud and his little sister, Tess. Quinn and Tess moved here last year.
It isn't long before Jenna arrives with her little sister, Rachel. Rachel stands with Tess. Jenna marches right past me and up to Quinn. "Ready for fourth grade, Quinn?" she asks.
Quinn shrugs. "I think it'll be better than third grade. At least I know some kids this year."
"Well, if it's friends you need, I can help," Jenna says. "I'm friends with everybody." Then she glances at me and adds, "
Quinn just nods. Then he looks at me. "How about you, Ida? Are you ready for fourth grade?"
But before I can say "As ready as I'll ever be," Jenna butts in. "
" she says, giving me the once-over. "Looks to me like she's ready for
" Then she pokes her thumb toward Tess and Rachel. "Don't you want to stand with your little friends, I-
I don't say anything. Jenna laughs and nudges Quinn. "I guess she can't take a joke," she whispers loudly.
Quinn just fidgets a little and pretends to be very interested in watching for the bus to arrive.
I watch, too, and wonder if Elizabeth already has friends at her new school or if she is also wishing that fourth grade wouldn't come.
I find an empty seat on the bus and sit down. I unzip my backpack and pull out my sketchbook. I open it up to a drawing of Elizabeth and me from last Halloween. Elizabeth was the front end of a horse. I was the back end. It was a great costume until we had to march in the Halloween parade at school. Jenna (who was dressed like an organically grown carrot) got in line behind us. She kept whacking me and shouting, "Giddyap, horsey!" I swear I still have bruises in places you can't see.
On another page there is a drawing of my family. I drew big smiles on me and my mom, and we have the words
floating over our heads. That's because my dad has just told us a joke. Telling jokes is one of my dad's favorite things to do.
I turn the page again and see a drawing of my bedroom, including my bookshelf, which has about a hundred books drawn on it. I bet I've read every one of those books at least three times since Elizabeth moved away.
When I get to school, our new teacher, Mr. Crow, is standing outside our classroom door. He is saying hello and shaking hands with everyone. I start to walk up to him, but Jenna and another fourth-grade girl, Brooke Morgan, shove past me.
"Excuse us, I-
" Jenna says.
Brooke looks back at me and giggles.
Even though we have a new teacher and a new classroom, it doesn't take me long to figure out that some things haven't changed. Brooke Morgan, for instance. She is still the prettiest girl in our class. She has been the prettiest girl around for the past nine years. I know because ever since she was a baby she has gotten her picture in
The Purdee Press
sitting on Santa's lap. Every December a hundred kids line up in itchy red dresses or green clip-on ties, waiting for a turn to sit on the big guy's lap. But only one kid's picture gets on the front page, and it's always Brooke Morgan's. Even last year, when she was way too old for it. My dad says she has the kind of smile that could sell a million boxes of cereal.
I do not have a cereal-box smile. My smile is scrunched because my teeth are scrunched. My dad's an orthodontist, and he says I can have braces when all my baby teeth fall out, but based on the number of baby teeth I still have, I think I can pretty much count on having scrunched teeth at least until high school.
When I get inside the classroom, I realize that Mr. Crow does not believe in straight lines. That's because our desks are arranged in four clusters. Apparently, Mr. Crow doesn't believe in alphabetizing either, because Rusty Smith's desk is right next to mine. Tom Sanders's desk is in my cluster, too, and so is Randi Peterson's. Randi Peterson is a girl, even though her name sounds like a boy's. She also acts like a boy, which means I have a lot of burping and ear picking to look forward to. But at least I don't have to sit with Jenna Drews.
Jenna probably thinks everyone wants to sit with her, but really everyone is afraid of her because she's so mean. In first grade, when our teacher showed us how to make minitornadoes by shaking up water, dish soap, food coloring, and vegetable oil in old pop bottles, Jenna made poor Tom Sanders
his. Then she spun him around until his stomach must have felt like a tornado, because Tom turned as green as the food coloring we used.
In second grade, Jenna threatened to tell on Joey Carpenter for cheating on a math test unless he knocked a loose brick out of a school wall so it would collapse and we'd all get a long vacation while they built it again. Joey had to sneak a hammer and chisel to school. But it didn't work. Well,
it sort of worked. He got caught, and when he told Ms. Stevens, our principal, it was all Jenna's idea, she got suspended for three days, which was sort of like a vacation for me.
Then, last year, Jenna made up new names for me and Elizabeth. I think she was jealous because we were best friends. She started calling us I
When you have a best friend, stuff like that doesn't bother you as much.
I sit down at my desk and glance over at Rusty. He doesn't seem to realize I'm there. Neither does Randi, who is busy shooting a crumpled paper ball at a hoop Rusty is making with his long, skinny fingers. Randi loves basketball. She even brings her own ball to shoot hoops at recess.
"Betcha can't make a three-point shot," Rusty says to Randi.
"Betcha I can," Randi answers and slides out of her desk. She takes a few steps back, narrows her eyes, and studies Rusty's freckled fingers. Then she lets the paper ball fly. Unfortunately, Tom Sanders arrives just as she shoots. The ball bounces off Tom's head and hits me in the nose.
Randi and Rusty crack up.
"What's a nose shot worth?" Randi asks Rusty.
"Four points!" Rusty says between laughs.
Randi turns her shaggy head to me. "Hey, Ida, let's go for
" she says, crumpling up a new paper ball.
Even though this is the first time Randi has ever invited me to join a game, I just say, "Um ... no thanks," and turn my nose away.
As I do, I see that the new girl, Stacey Merriweather, has arrived and is sitting in a cluster near me, along with Jenna, Brooke, and Dominic Jordan. Dominic doesn't have much to say, but that isn't slowing down the girls.