Authors: Whitney Shimmell
California Diaries #1: Dawn: Friends. Changes. Together. Alone.
Ann M. Martin
Copyright © 1997 by Ann M. Martin. All rights reserved. Published by Scholastic Inc.
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First Scholastic printing, August 1999
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Friday Afternoon 9/26
Well, here I am, starting another new journal. This is my second since
school began, and it isn’t even October yet. It turns out that this is an appropriate day to start a new journal, since I feel like one part of my life has ended (way too abruptly), and a new and very scary one has suddenly begun. But the new, scary
part didn’t start until the end of school, so I’ll get to that in a minute. I want to back up first and record yesterday, which was when everything really began. It
started off normally. There was no sign of what was to come – no dark skies or
weird violin music.
I woke up thinking about friends – my friends, and friends in general.
Sometimes I just don’t understand friends. Like, why do they have to change all
the time? Something is going on with every single one of my god friends, and I
don’t like any of it. They’re probably writing about me right now in their journals.
They’re saying that Dawn Schafer should just settle down and not get so
distracted by school. Wel , I can’t help getting distracted. I mean, just this
morning, for instance, I was thinking about what I don’t like about eighth grade.
It’s really been bothering me. Okay, so Vista is divided into those three main
buildings. The biggest one is the high school building for grades nine, ten,
eleven, and twelve. The middle-sized one is for preschool through grade four,
and the smal est one is mine, the middle school building, for grades five through
eight. Well, my building is soooo crowded this year. Suddenly there isn’t enough
space for us al . There are about a thousand kids in each class, and there aren’t
even enough rooms for us. My math class is held in the gym – on Tuesdays and
Fridays. On the other days it’s held in the back of the auditorium, while an
English class meets in the front. It’s a mess and I hate it. No wonder I’m
distracted by school. I can’t concentrate or settle down.
See? Just thinking about school made me get off track. I was thinking
about my friends, then…poof.
Maybe – maybe – what was announced today will be for the better. But I’m
not holding my breath.
Anyway…back to yesterday morning.
As always, I walked to Vista with Sunny and Maggie. I left crabby Jeff
behind, glad he was going to walk to school with his dorky friends. First I went
next door and stood outside Sunny’s house. In the old days I used to barge up
the walk to her front door and ring the bel . Sometimes I’d even go inside without ringing. I knew Sunny and her parents would be eating their breakfast. Now I
never know what to do. Or at any rate, I don’t know what to do during those times
Mrs. Winslow is home from the hospital. Like, if I ring the bell will I wake her up?
Do they want
me to come in or do they need as much private time as they can get?
I was standing at the bottom of the front stoop, feeling like a jerk, when the
door burst open and Sunny barrelled outside.
“Okay, let’s go,” she said.
I noticed she was holding a bag of granola. “Didn’t you eat breakfast?” I
asked her. “You can eat first. We don’t have to rush.”
“That’s okay. I’ll eat on the way to school. Mom’s having a horrible
morning. She’s on chemo again and the drugs are making her sick.”
At first I didn’t say anything. I was thinking that if my mom were really sick,
I’d want to stay at home with her. Or at least not flee the house early in order to get away from her. Then I realized maybe that wasn’t true. I mean, how do I
know how I would react if Mom had lung cancer? Maybe I would do just what
Sunny has been doing lately.
Sunny was practically running down the sidewalk.
“Hey, wait!” I cal ed. “Slow down.”
Sunny slowed down. A little.
We turned a corner. I always feel the exact same way when I reach the
end f our street and make that left onto Palm Boulevard. Like I’ve stepped onto a
movie set or something. Maybe it’s because Palm is the unofficial divider of my
middle-class neighborhood and Maggie’s definitely-not-middle-class
neighborhood. All those swimming pools and tennis courts. I feel uncomfortable.
Like I shouldn’t even be looking down those streets.
Yikes. My hand is tired. More later.
Friday, later on, 9/26
Vista may seem like a big mess to me right now, but there are some things
I like about it very much. The journal idea is one of the best things about Vista. I bet most of the students are like me and would keep journals even if the teachers
didn’t require it. At least they would keep them by the time they left Vista’s
elementary building and moved into the middle school building. It seems to me
that just around that time, around fifth and sixth grade, everything begins to
happen. Suddenly life gets so complicated. I suppose that life always gets more
complicated. I mean, the older you are, the more complicated it is. In
kindergarten, for example, what do you have to worry about except whether your
friend will share her crayons with you. It seems like such a big deal at the time.
Then by third grade you have to worry about whether Wil iam Barton is going to
kiss you on the playground, and it’s enough to make you fake a stomachache so
you can stay home from school. But you have no idea what’s coming, what you’ll
be up against when you’re ten, twelve, thirteen. For me, things heated up unti
lthey spun out of control when I was twelve. That was the year Mom and Dad got
divorced, and Mom moed Jeff and me al the way across the country to
Connecticut. We had to say good-bye to California, to Vista, to everyone and
everything. I thought my heart would break when I ad to say good-bye to Sunny. I
truly didn’t know how to say good-bye to my best friend. Then Connecticut turned
out to be cool, figuratively and literally. I made friends, Mom got remarried, and I acquired a stepfather and a stepsister, who already happened to be my
Connecticut best friend. Then Jeff decided to move back to California, then I did
too, and then Dad married Carol. Not exactly in that order. The point is that there has been a lot (a very huge IMMENSE lot) going on in my life, and through it all I kept my journals. All right, I admit I didn’t write in them quite as much when I went to Stoneybrook Middle School, where journal-keeping is not required (like it s at
Vista, starting in kindergarten, when you can barely write, and continuing on until the day you graduate from twelfth grade.) I know why the teachers make us keep
these journals, apart from the fact that this activity is a healthy habit, a creative outlet, good writing practice, and all that. The teachers never say so, but (since they were all kids themselves once) I bet they remember what it’s like to be
consumed by feelings and to need an outlet for them. Or maybe that’s not a kid
thing. Maybe it’s just a human thing. Anyway, when I started to feel eaten up, or
even when I’m just feeling chatty, which is pretty often, I like to turn to my current journal. (This one is #22.)
Friday evening 9/26
Maggie was waiting for Sunny and me on her corner. I thought she looked
like she’d been crying. But all she said when she saw us was, “Hi, you guys.
How’s your mother, Sunny?”
Sunny looked at Maggie. Then she looked at her a bit harder. “No, I’m
sorry,” she said gently. “What’s wrong Maggie?”
“Nothing.” But Maggie was definitely trying not to cry.
“Is it your mom again?” asked Sunny.
“Or your dad?” I suggested.
“Not real y. I just, um…I needed more time to study for our math quiz. I
didn’t plan very well, I guess. I don’t think I can get an A on the quiz now.”
I don’t know if that’s really what was wrong. It might have been. Maggie’s
awfully hard on herself when it comes to school. Actually when it comes to just
about anything. Miss Perfection. She used to be rebellious and do things like dye
her hair green, which I kind of admired. Now she’s made this turnaround, and
she tries to control everything. And excel at everything.
Sunny and I let the subject drop. “How’s Curtis?’ Sunny finally asked. She
The mention of Curtis made Maggie smile too. “Good!” she replied. “Mom
didn’t real y like having to go out and get a prescription for amoxicillin for a kitten, but it was worth it. I had to pay her back. I don’t care, though. His paw healed
“Are your parents going to let you keep him?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. I just want to fix him up, then find a good home
We turned off of Palm, walked two more blocks, turned again, and there
“You know, it even looks more crowded,” I said. “Doesn’t it?”
The front lawn was crawling with kids.
“It’s morning,” said Sunny, already impatient with me. “Of course it’s
crowded. Everyone’s arriving. All the buses just got here.”
“But it’s more crowded than usual,” I replied.
“She’s right,” said Maggie. “Wel , a lot of kids do switch to Vista in seventh
or eighth grade so they can go to the high school, since it’s so good.”
“Why’d they let so many in this year?” I grumbled.
“Hi! Hi, guys,” we heard someone call then.
It was Jill, of course. She was hopping off her bus and running across the
lawn toward us.
“Oh, please. What is she wearing?” Sunny said under her breath.
“She must have found her first-grade things,” Maggie whispered. “I wonder
how she got them to fit.”
Jil was wearing a sweatshirt with a huge pink unicorn on the front. The
unicorn’s horn (why aren’t unicorns called unihorns?) was sparkly gold, and the
unicorn was standing on a powder blue cloud that was made of some puffy
material. On Jil ’s feet were pink sneakers, and on the toe of each sneaker was a
pony with an actual tail hanging over the side of each shoe.
“Hi,” we called back to Jill.
No one said anything about Jill’s shirt or shoes, which I thought was
commendable of us. Then I realized that Jill wanted us to comment. And so her
face fell when Sunny looked beyond her and said, “Well, I guess we have to go
I glanced at my watch. “Yeah. The bel is going to ring any minute. Come
on, you guys.”
Later Friday evening 9/26
My friends thought I found school distracting before, but that was nothing.
Yesterday was out of control. Maggie and Jill and Sunny and I walked across the
lawn, through the main entrance, outside again into the courtyard, and then into
the middle school building. Really, I felt like our building was just oozing kids. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them seeping out of windows or through
cracks around doors like mold or bacteria.
In my homeroom we were short two chairs, so Brent and Max sat on a
windowsill. It turned out that the chairs had been taken by the teacher next door
who suddenly had two new kids in her class.
“What is going on?” I whispered to Tray Farmer, who sits next to me and
knows everything. (Well, he has an answer for everything, anyway. I think he
makes some stuff up, but it always sounds good.)
“It’s the current surge in eight-grade enrolment,” he replied, and I noticed
that little tic by his left eye.
“I guess,” but why?”
“Vista is an excellent private school, Dawn,” he said. “Progressive yet
demanding. Chal enging yet accepting of a student’s special needs and/or gifts.”
I looked around to see where Tray was hiding the Vista brochure. It must
have been there somewhere.
“An atmosphere of – “
“I know, I know.” I cut him off. “I mean, why are there so many more
eighth-graders this year?”
“This was one question for which Tray had no answer. At least not a quick
one. His face was still screwed into a frown when the bel rang and homeroom
Out in the hallway after homeroom, I squeezed my way through the halls. I
am not exaggerating when I say “Squeezed”. At one point I really did have to
ooze between two bunches of kids in order to go past them. I felt like toothpaste
in a tube. At the end of the hall, I caught sight of Sunny. She saw me. But we
couldn’t reach each other, so she just raised her fist in the air and called out,
“Rulers!” I shouted back.
Sunny and Maggie and Jill and I have waited for years to be able to do
that. As eighth-graders we are the Rulers of the middle school building. It’s a nice position to be in. I wonder why the seniors don’t bother to call themselves Rulers of the high school. Oh, well. I’d intended to enjoy my status this year. I’d earned it.
Saturday morning 9/27
Okay, so I ran out of steam last night and never got around to writing
about what happened in school. Or maybe I was afraid to write about it – as if
putting the words on paper would make it seem more real (and horrible). But